Is the sound that you hear the sound that I hear?
If we are to communicate well, we have to listen well, and most of us don’t listen as well as we think we do. However, no matter how carefully we listen, we may not always perceive exactly the same thing as anyone else. To show what I mean, here’s a true story that happened a few years ago…
The sounds of nature, particularly the ocean, are an effective background for relaxation for many of us. The roar of the waves gets louder as they approach, reaches a crescendo as they come closer, and then fades away as they retreat. To me, and to most people, it is very easy to visualize that one is relaxing peacefully as the nearby ocean waves advance and retreat in a soothing symphony of sound. Sometimes we may use such sounds when leading relaxation sessions. However, I encountered one individual who did not hear an ocean wave tape that way at all. He was noticeably not relaxed as the tape played. Later he asked why I would expect that the sound of trucks would help people to relax.
Trucks? TRUCKS? I wondered if we were speaking the same language.
However, he went on to explain that as a teenager he had been a frequent run-away, and between attempts at hitch-hiking had often tried to sleep under interstate bridges. Above him, throughout the night, the roar of the big trucks would gradually get louder as they approached, reach a crescendo as they passed overhead, and then fade away as they retreated into the distance. This was the scene that was re-created for him whenever he heard the tape that, for most people, created the peaceful sound of ocean waves.
What is real, what is interpreted?
The sound was the sound. What was actual was that the sound waves came from a piece of magnetic tape. What was real to me was that it was the sound of ocean waves, which led to relaxation. What was real to this man was the sound of interstate trucks, even after he became aware that the source of the sound on the tape was the ocean. And so that sound continued to remind him of his dangerous life as a runaway, which led to tension and a need for vigilance.
Our interpretation of most of the signals that we see and hear is subjective. How often have we discovered that another person’s interpretation of exactly the same events was quite different from ours?
What we perceive is real to us. We need to remind ourselves that it may not be exactly what actually happened, and it may not be what is real to another person. Do not assume, without checking, that you know what another person’s perceptions are.
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