Have you ever just needed a cup of coffee? Old school coffee, not the k-cup kind. Coffee where you grind up the beans, put the grounds in the coffee filter and brew a whole pot. I love the aroma from the grinding to the brewing, the smell is intoxicating. Even when I didn’t like coffee, I loved the smell of it in the morning.
One thing I quickly learned is you have to make sure the filter is in just right; otherwise, you end up with coffee grounds in the pot, and worse yet in your cup. Nothing makes a customer or husband more upset than coffee grounds in the finished cup. Unfiltered coffee grounds can run a perfectly good cup of joe. I also learned that coffee tastes so much richer when you take the time to clean all the mechanics, the little mesh filters need cleaning just as you change out a paper filter. I never realized how much checking and cleaning the filters could change the flavor.
Our lives are the same way. Most of the time filters operate under the surface and we never really give thought to the influence over our perspectives. Every day the things we hear, and the way we respond, goes through filters, sometimes we are aware of the filter, but often that we have no idea about the filters we use. Filters have their place. Not all filters are bad, but most of us use them in our personal lives without even checking for correct position or considering they might need cleaning!
Some filters we can immediately recognize and make changes. Noise is a filter. Internal noise like when I am not paying attention, lost in my own little world. My daughter or husband will often have a conversation that I can not recall, because of the internal noise I was really paying attention to as they were talking. They know if they want me to remember the conversation, they need my undivided attention. They also know when that works to their advantage. External noise is also a filter. Background noise like music, television, internet or others talking can prevent a message from being heard, even if the person is trying to listen.
There are also some filters we recognize and make accommodations for, but can’t necessarily change. These would be filters like gender, language, age, and culture. I can not talk with my grandson at the same level I would my aunt or grandfather. Their ages, as well as mine, give each of us a filter which must be accommodated because the differences won’t change. I can not speak a foreign language fluently, but I can accommodate through a translator or interpreter if I need to communicate. There are even dialects within cultures that can create a filter. I have a friend from New York and as we planned a Christmas play I had to have her spell out the word “donkey” because I had no idea what she was saying as we discussed the nativity scene. Or another friend from New Orleans that would say “Come see.” with such an accent I thought he was saying “Come sing.” What he was communicating was “Come here.” Our dialects were filters.
There are times, when I know people wish others would use a filter. Like when the grandchild exclaims loudly in the store “Mimi, your butt is humongous.” Or “He looks like he has a baby in his tummy.” They are not trying to be mean, just saying what they are thinking without a filter. Yep, that would be my kid or grandchild depending on the year. At one time, it was me too. My family has often asked me to use a filter. I can be rather blunt at times. There are times, I know that people could not handle my unfiltered self. And so I take things through the muted filter. I am still me, I just keep all that orneriness inside.
Then there are those filters that we have no idea exist until they are brought to the surface. Our experiences shape how we see things. Good and bad things can act as filters. As children, we grow up thinking that everyone else’s world is just like our family. Then we start visiting with friends and learn that most families do different things.
My daughter and I were talking about this recently. She attended a group activity and were asked to share the worst thing that ever happened to them in childhood. She has a positive attitude and really struggled to find something. She wasn’t trying to be superficial, but she was raised to deal with things as they come up and then move forward. I don’t remember what she finally came up with or if she did – she was brainstorming with me like “My mom bought Kraft instead of Velveeta Mac and Cheese.”
As the other ladies shared, she realized that even though they were sharing through tears their pain, she had experienced the same things. I wasn’t married to her dad, he was an absent parent. I was an angry bitter person in her childhood, I yelled more than I talked. She witnessed physical violence, substance abuse, and was moved around a lot. She filtered her childhood through a positive filter and couldn’t even pull those things out until they were brought up by others in their own experience.
For some time now, I have been trying to recognize when I am listening or responding through a filter instead of being present in the moment. I would love to say that I have it all figured out, but even now there are filters that I know are present that I have to battle against. I was reminded of that yet again this week.
I was driving home from work and got a call “I’ll be home late tonight.” It was filtered immediately through a negative filter from my past. I was immediately taken back to twenty-three years before when my life had forever been altered by those words. My life had been flipped upside down for some time following, and in those five words I was immediately back there. I admit, I stayed there for a few minutes before I turned the corner physically and brought myself back to the moment. I realized where my mind was trying to take me, and I spoke the truth out loud that I would see him later.
If I am honest, that filter didn’t start twenty-three years ago, it started in early childhood. Only in the past few years have I allowed myself to process where certain filters came from. Rejection is one that I deal most often with, and it is seated in childhood misperceptions. My mind filled in the blanks with things it knew, when I didn’t understand what was going on around me and adults were trying to help me understand.
How does a young child understand sexual abuse of sibling? As rejection.
My sibling gets alone time with daddy, a lot.
How does that child understand “your daddy is not coming home for a while?” Rejection.
What did I do wrong that he has left me?
How does a child interpret being drug to older siblings school events, and then parents who don’t take time to come to any of the child’s events throughout school? As rejection.
They don’t care about me as much as they do my brother and sister.
How does a child understand sitting outside counselors and pastors offices weekly for hours? As rejection.
I am not important enough to be told what is going on.
Children don’t understand words like abuse when it isn’t happening to them. They only see the grooming that takes place that they are not a part of, which on the outside seems desirable. The list goes on and on of things that my childhood perception was incorrect about, but no one took the time to help me understand. It wasn’t until I was an adult and started thinking about the situation through the trained eyes of an ex-child welfare worker that I thought about the grooming process, the court orders, the conditions of probation, and being a registered sexual offender not allowed around children places like schools.
I didn’t realize how deeply that filter had become part of my identity. I was more inclined to put up walls because I already knew I would be rejected. I didn’t enter in conversations that didn’t start with me because I knew I wasn’t part of it and would be rejected. Sharing what happened as a child, even though I didn’t know what it meant, suddenly would mean friends weren’t allowed at my house, rejection. My heart broke as I realized how deep it went. I didn’t have feelings of guilt or shame tied to my childhood past, it was just filled with rejection. That rejection filtered most everything coming after it and I hadn’t even known.
If we can become aware of our personal filters, the change in our interactions can be pivotal. It is not easy to fight something that has been engrained for over 35 years. Becoming aware that it existed was a game changer, because I can recognize when I am filtering situations and conversations through a filter of rejection and make it unfiltered. I can cleanse the dirty filter so I can gain a richer perspective.
So now when I think I might be filtering through a false perception, I can pause and ask myself a few questions, just like I do when I am making coffee. Am I in the right position? Do I need to stop and wash that filter?
Am I looking through a lens of perceived rejection (Or whatever you filter things through – fear, lack of self-worth, anxiety, depression, victim, etc.) or am I looking though an unfiltered lens at what is happening? Am I making assumptions or am I basing my view on hard data/facts/truth?
Sometimes I really am being rejected, and while that doesn’t feel good it is not a misperception. My actions and response can be based on that truth of rejection. If it is not real though, I need to ask one more question. What is the truth? And then I need to speak the truth. I need to act on the truth instead of my feelings. I might need to gain more information, but I need to work on getting the information, not just build a wall.
We all have filters. Some we can easily change, like turning off the television or setting down our phones. Some filters, we have to make accommodations for, like talking on a child’s level or using an interpreter. Some filters, we chose to not use at all, like children in their innocence or blunt people. Some filters we have to do some soul searching to see, and then we have to work to overcome those filters. When we recognize the impact the filters have, we can start to recognize when they are at play and make changes until they no longer impact our interactions with others.