Observing And Perceiving
The Battle of Sekigahara in October 1600 firmly established the Tokugawa clan as the ruling dynasty of Japan for the next two and a half centuries. After decades of civil war, the country was finally at peace.
Following the battle, many samurai had lost their warlord masters and therefore their employment. These rogue warriors would roam the countryside and earn a living any way they could. Many turned brigands and terrorised villagers and farmers for food and valuables. Others chose a different path; they would duel for money and reputation.
Miyamoto Musashi was one of the duelling samurai. This famous Japanese swordsman established an unparalleled record: undefeated in 61 duels, many of them to the death. Musashi was not only an extraordinary fighter but also an insightful philosopher. One of his most famous mottos was
“The observing eye is strong.
The perceiving eye is weak.”
When we are observing people and situations, we see the unembellished truth. We cannot go too wrong here. Either we saw it, or we didn’t. The observing eye is strong.
We get in trouble when we wrap a layer of judgement or meaning over the top that is often not true. The perceiving eye is weak.
For example, we’re meeting with a potential new business partner. Looking at our watch, we notice that they are late. The observing eye has spoken.
Simultaneously, we might judge this person as unreliable and lacking in consideration and integrity. Why did they not call to say they’d be late? Do we want someone like that as a business partner? Maybe not. The perceiving eye has spoken. Here we are on less firm ground. We’ve formed our judgement on the scantiest basis. Perhaps this person is extraordinarily reliable and has high personal integrity. However, just before the meeting, they had a family emergency and, while dealing with it, were unable to inform us they’d be late.
In reality, we have little to no insight into why people behave the way they do. Their minds are mostly closed off to us. Musashi realised that we often get our perceptions wrong and therefore we ought to distrust them. Our snap judgements don’t show us the truth. On the contrary, they lead us away from it. And even though we now live in a ‘Post-Truth World’, it’s never been more critical for us to seek out and stay close to the truth.