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Are Your Interpretations Getting In Your Way?

“We do not see the world as it is, we see it as we are.” – Anais Nin

A story of interpretation:

Centuries ago, the Pope decreed that Jews in Italy had to convert or leave. There was an outcry from the Jewish community, so the Pope offered a deal: He would have a religious debate with the leader of the Jewish community. If the Jews won, they could stay in Italy. If the Pope won, they would have to convert or leave.

The Jewish people picked an aged, wise Rabbi to represent them in the debate. However, as the Rabbi spoke no Italian, and the Pope spoke no Yiddish, they agreed that it would be a ‘silent’ debate.

On the chosen day the Pope and Rabbi sat opposite each other.

The Pope raised three fingers. The Rabbi looked back and raised one finger.

Next, the Pope waved his finger around his head. The Rabbi pointed to the ground where he sat.

The Pope brought out a communion wafer and a chalice of wine. The Rabbi pulled out an apple.

With that the Pope stood and declared that he was beaten. The Rabbi was too clever. The Jews could stay.

Later the Cardinals met with the Pope and asked him what had happened. The Pope said, “First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me there is still only one God common to both our beliefs. Then, I waved my finger around my head to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground to show that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and wafer, to show that God absolves us of all our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of the original sin. He had beaten me at every move and I could not continue.”

Meanwhile, the Jewish community gathered to ask the Rabbi how he had won. “I haven’t a clue,” said the Rabbi. “First, he said to me that we had three days to get out of Italy, so I gave him the finger. Then he tells me that the whole country would be cleared of Jews and I said to him that we were staying right here.”

“And then what?” asked a woman.

“Who knows?” said the Rabbi. “He took out his lunch, so I took out mine.

Many iPEC Students have heard this story related by Bruce Schneider, the founder of iPEC Coaching. It’s a funny story that also makes a great point about Interpretations, our topic for today’s post.

An interpretation is a judgement we make about, or the meaning we assign to, what’s going on that we believe to be true. Throughout our lives we are constantly collecting information that is stored in our subconscious. All of this information, and what we’ve decided to think about it, forms our view of the world and how it works. It is from this understanding, which we have ourselves formed of the world, that we make meaning of what’s going on within and around us. It does not mean it’s correct, it just means that’s the perspective we see it from.

In the story above, the Pope could not step away from how he viewed life: from the viewpoint of a man of God. The Rabbi, however, was considering much more than just religion during their ‘debate’, which caused him to interpret the proceedings in a completely different way.

Let’s see what your view of the world has you interpreting:

You and your family have just moved into a new neighborhood and have spent the past three days carting boxes from your moving truck into your home and back again. During this time, the neighbors have ridden bikes past, walked their kids to the school bus, mowed their lawns and done what normal neighbors do on a typical day. However, none of them have stopped over to introduce themselves or welcome you to the neighborhood. Why not?

An answer probably jumped into your head, didn’t it? And more than likely, your interpretation was based on some limiting beliefs and assumptions. If you’ve had trouble making friends in prior neighborhoods or perhaps have generally unfavorable views on meeting new people, your interpretation might be that your new neighbors are not a friendly and welcoming bunch.

Could this be true? Sure. But a bunch of other things could be true as well. For example, maybe they can see you are really busy and are waiting until you’re settled in to bother you. This is a completely opposite view of the exact same situation and the answer you settle on has everything to do with prior experience and your view of the world. The really nasty part about interpretations is that they can be very difficult to overcome because we’ve assigned meaning to them based on who we are (or who we think we are). They get all tied up in our sense of self, so often changing our interpretations means changing the way we see ourselves—NOT an easy thing to do!

So how DO you challenge interpretations? The toughest part about all of this is realizing when we are interpreting – which is always! We walk around all day long interpreting everything and believing we know what it’s all about. Sometimes that’s fine. But if your interpretation is causing you conflict or getting in your way, there are a couple of things you can do to challenge that.

When a situation occurs in which your interpretation isn’t helping you, ask yourself to come up with not just your first interpretation, but also a couple of other options that could be true as well. Try to think of at least three or five other possible explanations for what’s could be going on. This is not intended to get you to change your mind, but rather to simply practice expanding your view point. After a while though, you may find yourself choosing a more empowering interpretation more often once you get used to seeing them.

You can also ask how the other person (or people) involved in the same situation could possibly be interpreting it. Remember, if there is any other way that it is possible to interpret what is happening, then what you are experiencing is YOUR truth and not necessarily THE truth. With a little practice and noticing, you can begin to interpret the world in a way that is much more likely to bring you happiness instead of conflict.

And there we have it! The AILs that can be coloring your perception and holding you back, and a few ideas on how to challenge them. I hope you’ve learned a little from this series and found some ways to apply the information to your own life. To read about the blocks we’ve already covered, check out these previous posts in the series: What’s Blocking You, Challenge Your Limiting Beliefs, and The Effects of False Assumptions.

If you suspect that inner blocks might be impacting you or your team’s success, reach out and contact me to learn about workshops and presentations to help professionals become aware of what may be holding them back, and 1:1 professional coaching to work through removing those barriers.

Trish Cody has over 18 years of experience consulting with some of the world’s top Fortune 500 Companies. Today, as an ICF and iPEC Certified Coach and Energy Leadership Master Practitioner, Trish works with clients to uncover their core values and beliefs, clearly see how they are showing up in their behaviors and impacting their success, and to shift their thinking to naturally attract positivity and success. For more information, visit

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