Updated: Jan 7
Little Richie was known by reputation as a trouble maker, a problem child. His grades were poor at best, and his parents spent more time at school with his teachers than he did. Yet in spite of his reputation I remember Richie as a quiet and reserved boy, almost shy.
Whenever his mother brought him to visit, I would try to get him to open up and relax a little. Nothing I attempted seemed to ease his discomfort or to hold his attention for very long. No matter what I did he would never hold eye contact. It was as though he was ashamed of some dark, hidden secret. Either that or he was terribly unsure of himself.
Watching him play from a distance, it was easy to feel pity for him because it was so obvious he was awkward and clumsy in everything he did. Yet pity alone wasn’t enough. Anyone who spent more than five minuets with Richie just knew he was a child who couldn’t make it to the corner store without some kind of problem developing.
Then one day during a complete medical physical that included an eye exam, the Doctor discovered that Richie was just about legally blind. This caught everyone by surprise. Richie was given a new pair of glasses. They looked like something cut from the bottom of two of those old fashioned coke-a-cola bottles.
His mother described the look of amazement on Richie’s face the first time he put them on. She described how his face lit with surprise and wonder as he looked at everything around him as though seeing the world for the first time. Then big tears filled his eyes as he looked at his mother and said "I didn’t know Mom. I thought the world looked like that to everyone."
For the first time in his life, he could actually see clearly and finally realized just how distorted his prior impression of the world really had been. With new glasses he was a markedly different child. He even began making eye contact with people and to actually smile every now and then.” (Author Unknown - I saved this from an article I read over 20+ years ago and do not have the original source.)
Richie struggled with distorted vision that dramatically affected his actions. As a result, others judged him and labeled him as a troublemaker. He was miss-labeled as a problem-child when he was merely trying to adapt in a world he didn’t understand and that didn’t understand him. No one could see the pain in his heart as he struggled to survive. No one noticed as his self esteem plummeted with each failed attempt to be like the others.
There are two lessons we can learn from this story, true or not. First... Is our perception of our world or ourselves, distorted? And second... Do you tend to judge others in a negative way without taking the time to understand what lies beneath their inappropriate actions?
Most of us have negative perceptions of ourselves. This is especially true if our childhood was abusive, either physically or emotionally. Children need to feel and be shown love and affection on a daily basis by their parents for them to have a healthy self-image.
Being neglected, ignored, belittled, physically or sexually abused, can cause feelings of worthlessness that will last a lifetime unless we recognize them and take dead aim to change them.** They will affect our actions and cause us to do or say things that bring us dishonor or shame. If we judge ourselves as worthless as a result of our past experiences, then our vision can be as distorted as Richie’s was.
We are all susceptible to negative thinking. Once we begin to spiral down a negative path it is not easy to just snap out of it. It can be a challenge to move away from negative thinking and it takes a lot of determination and strength to do so.
The first step in turning around negative thinking is to recognize it. You can’t change it if you fail to acknowledge it. Listen to your self-talk.** Tune in to how you feel. If you have a negative feeling, often it is a result of a negative thought. The thought is there first. Sometimes we are not even aware of it consciously. It is the negative thought that creates the feeling. Identify the thought, put exact words to it, then turn it around.
For example, if you are feeling worthless, quietly ask yourself “Why?”. Then be patient and listen to your internal dialogue for the answer. The answer may not come quickly. It may take a few minutes, so be quiet and listen. Perhaps your thought was, “I’m stupid”; “No one likes me”; “I’ve made a lot of mistakes”; “I’m not a good person”, and so on.
Once you have identified the thought, then turn it around by telling yourself the exact opposite that is positive.** Such as, “I am intelligent, and always do my best.” Or “Even though I make mistakes, I learn from them and don’t repeat them.” And so on.
An ancient wise king said that “oppression can drive the wise one into madness”. When we are under stress for a long period of time with no relief, it has a detrimental affect on the mind and may cause us to behave irrationally, or to do or say things that are out of character. We may do and say things that we later regret. We cannot change the past. We can only learn from our mistakes and use them as an opportunity to grow and change for the positive.
Robert Lewis Stevenson said: “Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but playing poor cards well”. “
"Life happens” as the saying goes, and we may be dealt circumstances that were not of our choosing. Or we may be faced with new challenges that are the result of poor choices we have made personally.
So how do you perceive things? Do you let them get you down? Do you become depressed? Do you allow a feeling of worthlessness set in?** While these feelings are normal, we do not have to perpetuate them. We can take a more positive perception of our world and circumstances, but it takes work and conscious effort on our part to move out of the negative and into the positive.** We must learn to play poor cards well.
What about the second lesson? Is your perception of others based on external factors? Is it based solely on what you “think” you know about the person? At times their behavior may be inappropriate, but do you take the time to find out why they acted (or continue to act) the way they do? Do you know their past? How they were raised? Their self-esteem level? The pressure they are under? Their personality traits, positive and negative? Are you quick to judge or condemn, rather than to understand?
Regardless of which end of the spectrum we are on, our vision can be just as distorted as little Richie’s was. So if we have a worthless view or ourselves, or are judging others based on external factors, we need to stop and do what we can to correct our vision. Then we may gain a whole new insight to the world around us and the people we share it with.
** See the Insightful Change Method for more information on changing our negative perceptions.
*** Photographer HERE