Perceiving the power of projection


“My guiding principles in life are to be honest, genuine,

thoughtful and caring.”

Prince William

When you look in a mirror, what do you see?

No, you are not seeing yourself. The real you inhabits a body, not a mirror. No, what you see is a projection of yourself. We often project ourselves upon others also.

Are you diligent and honest? Then you will tend to trust other people easily. The reason is simple: you project on others the traits of diligence and honesty that come naturally to you.

Similarly, if you are a private person you likely believe others keep many secrets. Or if you often tell “white lies,” you may readily conclude others are deceiving you.

Name the trait, motivation or behavior. We tend to project these on others. This is natural. It’s familiar. The opposite attributes are foreign to us, so we find these more difficult to believe.

The consequences of these beliefs can be disastrous, for ourselves and for others. We need to widen our vision, perceiving the complexity of life. If we stay narrowly focused on what is natural for us, our mistakes will multiply.

Shortly after graduating from college in 1977, I discussed farm subsidies with a friend from church. I had just completed an independent study of economist Milton Freedman, agreeing with his tenet that the free market alone should determine a person’s income. So I opposed farm subsidies.

Mark was shocked. Why would an otherwise caring Christian approve of farmers going bankrupt when farm prices crash? My friend thought I was heartless on this issue, having lost both compassion and common sense.

Mark was right.

Why did I fail to care? Despite my business degree, I was ignorant. I knew nothing about farming. Even more pertinent, I had adopted an ideology that shut out the experiences of others.

I also projected on to bankrupted farmers my history of obtaining work easily. I did not considered the hardship of bankruptcy, the trauma of farmers losing their homes, nor their tribulations when seeking a new profession.

I needed to listen to others’ experiences. I needed to be thoughtful. I needed to widen my world.

Similarly, many leaders project their limited experiences upon others. One politician lamented that so many receive food stamps. Why not? His family never needed food stamps. Why should anyone else?

Instead of projecting his fortunate circumstances upon others, however, this politician could consider their experiences. What about the many millions of seniors dependent upon Social Security for whom food stamps are a necessity? What about the millions more who earn a living yet, due to low wages, are stuck in poverty? What about the many children who, even with food stamps, have some days each month with little or no food?

The political leader states that we need to spend more on the military so we should spend less on food stamps. This is a false choice. One does not exclude the other. Neither should food stamp recipients be denigrated. Moreover, the U.S. military currently spends as much as China and Russia, as well as the next 10 countries combined.

This “support for our troops” instead of support for those needing food stamps is ironic. The pay of low-ranking service people resulted in more than $100 million being spent at military grocery stores in 2013. So eliminating food stamps would wipe out this essential entitlement for many military families.

This politician’s name matters little. For the curious, however, the person cited is former Vice President Dick Cheney. What truly matters is the plethora of political leaders who hold a variety of heartless viewpoints.

Sometimes, due to our own projections, we, too, have uncaring positions. So what is true for Cheney is true also for you and me. We need to listen to others’ experiences. We need to be thoughtful. We need to widen our world.

Rev. Harry Rix has additional Quoflections, Quofblogs and 1,200 thoughtful quotations available at ©2014 Harry Rix. All rights reserved.


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