The New Car Syndrome

My brother was visiting me for a few days early in the week. Spending time with him gave me an insight that is the impetus for this post. Several times, on different occasions, he brought up the subject of racism. We were watching television one evening and the ad for Fantastic’s rice crackers came up, depicting an Asian lady dressed in a kimono-type of outfit serving the rice crackers to guests.

“That’s so racist,” he piped up. Naturally, his comment raised my eyebrows. I explained to him that Fantastic’s brand is all about Asian inspired food—noodles, rice crackers etc so it didn’t seem out of character for their ads to depict some sort of Asian culture. What made me think was the fact that both of us were watching the same ad and yet he instantly thought of that ad as being racist when that very notion hadn’t even crossed my mind. Does that make him hypersensitive or does that make me desensitised? Is his threshold and tolerance for ‘racism’ too low or is mine too high?

Many questions begged to be answered, ultimately the answer I decided on is this—perception is reality and reality is perception. That is what it is and it is all it ever will be. Reality—as we know it—is based on our perception of the world. The facts may remain the same but our perception of what the facts mean is what makes our reality different. And here’s what makes it even more complex—when we have a belief about something, we find evidence to support that belief, which influences our perception of reality and further reinforces our original belief.

So in this instance, my brother’s belief is that Australians, in general, are a racist bunch. Throughout his time here, the word ‘racist’ kept coming up in his vocabulary. When the waiter in the Italian restaurant was slow to bring us the bill, it was considered ‘racism’. When strangers in the bar didn’t make the effort to talk to him, he thought it was because he is Asian and that they are ‘racist’. He even said that before arriving on Australian shores, his partner had already told him to observe if racism is rampant here. That comment perplexed me. Isn’t it obvious that if you’ve primed yourself to look for something, you’re most likely to find it? The moment you’ve decided to find evidence to support your initial hypothesis, you’ve lost all objectivity about the issue on hand.

There is a part in our brain called the Reticular Activating System—the RAS, that filters out the ‘noise’ to find what we are looking for. The most commonly used analogy to describe the RAS is the New Car Syndrome i.e after you buy a new Toyota Corolla, you suddenly see them everywhere. That is the RAS at work. Of all the millions and millions of bits of information in our surrounding and environment that our senses take in, the RAS filters out most of it and highlights the ones that are of interest to us. So if you already have a belief that Australians are racist, it doesn’t take much to find evidence to support that belief.

So, what exactly is my point? My point is that most of what goes on inside our heads are fictitious. They are not always facts, rather they are subjective interpretations of the facts. And interpretations can be changed. Often it’s not a situation that bothers us, it’s what we think about a situation that bothers us. Two men may be laid off from their jobs and one may think it is the biggest tragedy that had befallen him and the other may think it is the perfect opportunity for him to do what he really wants to do. The facts are the same for the two men but the interpretations of the facts are different on both accounts.

Tony Robbins often says that the most important skill every human being should have is to be the Master of Meaning. Are you aware of the subjective interpretations of facts that goes on in your head? If so, do you use it to empower you or disempower you?

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” ~Dr. Wayne Dyer

Chiao Kee

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