Perception is an interesting thing. It means that two people can be in the same place at the same time and have completely different experiences. We all bring our own lives and our own perceptions to everything, and that determines what we then take away. We might be looking at the same thing or hearing the same words, but what we see and what we understand is completely colored by our own individual lives. It is even possible to see the same thing or read the same thing at different times in your own life and have a completely different experience with it because you are in a completely different place in your own life and more aware of things you might not have noticed before.
One place I have really noticed this lately is with General Conference. There was a talk in April that when I heard it live I heard one thing. When I read it in the Ensign a few months later, I read a completely different message. And when I heard it on DVD after a few more months, it was something completely different again. At each of those three times I was in a different place in my life, and so I got something different out of it. With the October session there was a talk that I got one thing out of, but someone else I talked to got almost the exact opposite from it. We are different people bringing different lives to the same experience and we both walked away from it with what we needed.
I’ve also noticed it recently with life in general. Two people can be talking together, and yet be talking on completely different levels or about completely different things simply because of what they have personally brought with them to the experience. What you bring to the experience is called slot filling and it’s part of schema theory. When we are faced with a situation, we take the given information and then we fill in the blanks with things of our own invention that make the situation make sense to us. The trouble comes when two people are filling the slots with very different things. It makes communication difficult. It’s what makes us jump to conclusions and make assumptions about what is happening because that is what makes sense to us.
But the more we know a person, the more we are aware of where they are in life and what they are bringing to the experience, the better we can understand their perception. It takes time. And it takes effort. But I think that the effort can offer a great reward. When we can understand how someone else might perceive something, than we are that much closer to truly understanding the person.