Becoming human is a process of learning to interpret the meaning of events. As a newborn, we are faced with an ambiguous universe. When some big head shows up over our crib making strange faces and  noises we have to determine whether this is friend or foe, funny or scary.  We either laugh or cry based upon our interpretation. Some of our interpretations we figure out for ourselves. Many of them, we get help with. Our parents, siblings and friends share their understandings with us and through them we learn to interpret whom we are and how the world works.  Our parent’s fears may become our fears, their ambitions may become ours, or we may reject their interpretations as we see their folly.

It is essential that we learn to recognize danger and learn to tell what will give us satisfaction and what will give us frustration. Unfortunately, our interpretations are fallible. We get it wrong sometimes. Some interpretations are based on prejudice, some on old rules that no longer apply. Sometimes we are misinformed. Then there is the problem that our interpretations become linked to emotion in a process that can be quite irrational. Once the association is set in the brain’s limbic system, emotions can push us around quite independent of reason.

By the time we are adults we will have figured out what kind of person we are, whether the world is a safe or dangerous place, and whether you can trust other people and their dogs or not. We will have formed a host of preset views that simplify our lives, because they relieve us of the need to think. We hold these truths to be self-evident.

It is helpful to recognize that we are projecting our interpretations upon the world and to challenge our core beliefs, opinions and prejudices from time to time. A sage is able to suspend interpretation and see with  clarity, or if not able to see, at least be able to abstain from projecting opinion upon an ambiguous stimulus.


Take a break from making judgments and interpretation sometimes.  A few minutes at a time, seek to experience without deciding if something is good or bad, pretty or ugly. As you listen to the call of birds, listen with pure perception. The song bird and the jay, both calling—listen without pronouncing one beautiful and the other ugly. Note your inclination to do so and welcome both sounds with equanimity.

When eating, try some food you are unaccustomed to. Consider that some people may enjoy it even though it seems odd to you.

Allow yourself to go to social events that are perhaps not your cup of tea. Meet people outside of your usual crowd and practice being open to whatever the experience might offer. Be mindful of your aversions and attractions.  Take them as information about yourself.  Note when they are mere prejudice and when they are intuition or sound judgment. Judgment itself is not bad. The problem comes  when it is blind.

When things happen to you, seek perspective. Remember that in the long view, things that at first feel like catastrophes may prove to be beneficial. Loss of a job or a relationship can open one to new directions in life that can turn out to be a boon. Winning the lottery may turn out to be bad for you.  You have to wait and see.

As you recognize that you have a choice in how you interpret the phenomena in your life, consider that you also have the ability to skew your perceptions in a more positive direction. As you drop prejudice, you naturally become more compassionate. Being more compassionate, you will be more loving and kind. As a consequence, you will experience those around you as more loving and kind. As you give up your negative and fearful preconceptions, opportunity will naturally unfold and life will be richer.

As your thinking broadens, your relationships will likely improve. As you experience more positive interactions, you will be able to get more useful things done. Freed of habitual fears and aversions, your options expand.

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© 2009 Tom Barrett