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Articles > Recovery: > Selective Attention

Selective Attention

"Aware of their [the disciples] discussion, Jesus asked them: 'Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?' 'Twelve,' they replied'"1

"Have you ever seen a baseball player argue with an umpire's decision in an important situation even when it was obvious to everyone else that the call was correct? The player wants the call to go the other way so badly that he might actually have perceived it differently from that of the umpire. I remember one case where a player even swore to his teammates that a called third strike was a ball. Later, when he was shown a videotape of the pitch, which was right down the middle, he couldn't believe it. He wanted it to be a ball so badly that he had actually perceived it to be a ball."

One's mind is like his eye. The moment a foreign object threatens to intrude, the eye closes. So does the mind. It will close to anything that threatens a person's self-esteem, his personal life-style, his strongly held attitudes, values, and beliefs, and to anything that is not relevant to his felt or perceived needs and wants.

As communicators remind us, all of us have selective exposure, selective attention, selective comprehension or perception, selective distortion, and selective retention.

Selective exposure shows that people are only open to messages they want to receive.

Selective attention shows that people hear only what they want to hear.

Selective comprehension or perception shows that people will perceive things the way they want to see them.

Selective distortion shows how people change messages to match their self-concept or twist them to match their misguided perception of reality.

Selective retention shows that people remember only what they want to remember.*

Everything else is filtered or blocked out. We are all capable of doing this. The fact is we see things not the way they are, but the way we are. However, the answer for seeing reality; that is, seeing the truth as it really is, is by our being ruthlessly honest with ourselves. The more dishonest I am with my inner self, the more I will distort all truth to make it match my distorted perception of reality and twist it to say what I want it to say. But the more honest I am with my inner self, the more I will see all truth—including God's truth—the way it really is, and not as I may want it to appear. As Jesus reminds us, it's the truth that liberates us.

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please make me to be a man/woman of truth. Help me to be honest with myself and with You so that I will see all truth the way it is, and see things the way they are and not twist them to say what I want them to say. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus's name, amen."

1. Mark 8:17-19 (NIV).

*NOTE: Today's Daily Encounter is adapted from I Hate Witnessing—A Handbook for Effective Christian Communications, by Dick Innes. See pages 136 following (2010 edition). Available at:


All articles on this website are written by
Richard (Dick) Innes unless otherwise stated.

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