Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Perception is reality. Even after perceptions have changed.

Published: 17 Aug 2011

Today my wife called me over. She was half-way up the stairs, looking out over our sitting room (which is just a big open space for the kids). Odd place for her to be. The room has vaulted ceilings and half-way up along the edge are shelves. The shelves are about 10’ up so it’s just out of broom reach. Getting a ladder is agonizing. We have many, many toys stuck up there.

She points to the corner in distress. What is that? I look over. It certainly looks like a huge spider. I mean huge. The type of spider you post photos to Facebook and receive a plethora of Likes.

She’s obviously worried. I want to say that it is most definitely not a spider, but it really looks like one. It continued to look like one in my head as I went into the garage to grab the ladder.

It was still a huge spider in my mind as I climbed up. I knew it wasn’t a spider. That knowledge didn’t prevent a nugget of anxiety forming as I climbed the ladder. Not because I am scared of spiders. I’m scared of a panicked wife. I just sprayed insecticide last weekend.

It wasn’t a spider. It was a toy. It was a toy that is impossible to think of as a spider. I looked at it and was remarkably confused by it. I couldn’t see it anymore. It no longer was a spider. I couldn’t make it into a spider. I tried. It wasn’t a spider and wouldn’t be ever again.

I always see the old lady. Sometimes I can see the girl. Then immediately it switches into the old lady. I’d rather look at an elegant young woman than an old hag. I can’t help it.

When the water is clear…

After our perception are corrected, one of two things seems to happen:

  1. Complete inability to see it how we saw it (incorrectly) previously.
  2. A lingering sense of apprehension. A belief that it may return to what it was.

My wife is in camp number two. A mode of disbelief. This makes me wonder things about myself.

Why do misconceptions linger?

Why can’t I clear myself of a mistaken first impression? Why do those first impressions matter so much. If a first impression is incorrect and is rectified, the person’s reputation is not clean. The reputation lingers. A sense of distrust permeates the relationship. Perhaps it eventually fades away, but not quickly enough.

Why can I not see things as they were?

This is very common in technical circles, especially in Open Source. When people understand something and their misconceptions are cleared away, they lose the ability to think how they once thought.

As an example, developers writing documentation. The more someone learns about the workings of a system, the less they are able to write documentation intended for a novice. Too many things are taken for granted. The levels of understanding and fine details are taken for granted.

I don’t think this is negative. Taking knowledge for granted is fine, but I think it should at least be acknowledged. I fail at this. I need to be more aware of what knowledge I may take for granted. What experiences I’ve had that assist me in removing preconceptions and truly understanding things?

If I knew that, I’d better know how to mentor those who I need to mentor. Perhaps I would even be better at mentoring myself.