Our Interpretations

In my last post I talked about Bloom’s Taxonomy, and how we use these skills all the time in our everyday life. One concept I talked about was interpretation.  Interpretation is natural to human beings. Whatever we see gets filtered in our mind, gets mixed up with our assumptions, prior experience and the current situation and comes out as our thoughts.  

This was brought home to me the other day when I was at a meeting with three of my colleagues. Suddenly the door opened, and a senior member of the institution stood there. He lifted his hand, made a face and shut the door.  One person in the room said that he had silently rebuked us because he thought we were gossiping, perhaps participating in a clique.  “What a nasty person”, was her first reaction. That was my reaction too. But the other two people in the room had a very different take on it. Their understanding of the situation was that this person barged into the room and when he saw that a meeting was going on, he quickly closed the door in embarrassment. The facial expression that two of us saw as a frown, the other two saw as an apologetic grimace.  Same situation, different interpretation. One interpretation was negative, which could lead to future negative interpersonal issues, while the other was positive.  Later in the day, I ran into that person in the corridor. He apologised to me and said he was sorry he disturbed our meeting. He wanted a quiet place to work and thought that this room was empty --- he did not know we were having a meeting.

His apology left me very sheepish.  It also showed me how deceptive our interpretations can be.  It brought home to me that our interpretations say more about our own state of mind than about the other person.  Two days ago, I was a part of a conversation where I had heard someone talk negatively about this person.  It was that conversation that must have stayed in my mind, leading to my instant negative reaction when I saw him at the door.  

All our interactions with others are based on such interpretations. However, most of the time, we take our interpretations for granted --- we perceive them to be the reality, whereas they might be only one way of looking at the situation. The skill comes in getting into the habit of questioning our interpretations and acknowledging that how we interpret a situation may be totally wrong. That is where critical thinking comes in.