Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Perception

Posted by Luann Johnson on

The older I get and the more divided the world gets, the more I tend to reflect on the idea of perception.  How it changes depending on different variables--your age, your economic circumstances, your familial situation, etc...  For example, when you're a small child, your entire world consists of your mom, your dad, your siblings, your pets--because in my house they were for sure considered family members--whatever your immediate family unit is.  In those first few years before you venture out into the big, bad world on your own, to preschool or kindergarten or whatever, there isn't anything else that matters to you.  Things are easy then--everyone you love is within the four walls of your home.  With the exception of grandparents.  Can't forget grandparents because they play a huge part in the happy, sunny memories you look back on when you're older.  But basically, your perception is that these beings that you share your world with are right there with you, always close by, and will always be there.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking right now--not everybody has happy, sunny memories of their childhood.  Tragically that is definitely true.  However it also illustrates perfectly the point I am trying to make about perception.  So please understand that my ramblings are based on MY perceptions, from MY experiences.  If they differ from yours, I am in no way devaluing yours, so there is no need to attack or feel slighted.  I get it, I promise.

As you get older, you start school, you join clubs, you get jobs...and your world gets bigger.  And more complicated.  Actually MUCH more complicated.  Now all of the sudden you have a lot more beings in your world that you care about.  You have friends--some of them on their way to being life-long friends.  You have teachers and colleagues and bosses--some that you care about and some...not so much...  And along with all these new people that you have now added to your "important to me" list, you also now have to factor in all of THEIR "important to me" beings in THEIR lives.  Their families, their other friends, and their...wait for it...perceptions.  But wait--they're your friend so they see everything the same way you do, right?  Well...not necessarily.  Their perception of family life may be drastically different than yours just based on their own experiences.  Guess what--their perception of you, and your life, is probably at least a little different than yours too.  Don't believe me?  Ask them.  Ask them to describe your family relationships, your financial status, your professional status, etc...  I guarantee you'll get something different than you think.  Not necessarily worse than your own perceptions, or better.  Just different.  Because it's based on their life experiences, not yours.

So as you rock along in your life, gathering different experiences along the way, meeting new people--your perception of each event, each person, each place is graded on a curve defined by your past experiences.  What you may perceive to be dangerous, is adventurous to someone else.  You may perceive a person with more wealth than you to be rich, where someone with more wealth than them may see them as middle class.  That person hasn't changed--they have what they have--but the perception changes from person to person based on their own experiences.

So, why does any of this matter?  I mean, it is what it is, right?  People see things how they want to see them.  If you believe, based on a personal past experience, that dogs are dangerous, it's not likely that I will change your mind just because I love dogs.  So in terms of real-world experience, understanding the concept of perception doesn't really matter.  But what if it made a difference in how we treat the people that we come into contact with?  I'm not just talking about your spouse or your best friend.  I'm talking about the girl behind the counter, the man serving your meal, or the person on the other end of the phone.  Or better yet, the person who just posted something on Social Media.  What if, when presented with an act, a remark, a post, that we don't agree with or appreciate, instead of responding with a knee-jerk reaction, we could recognize that this person just has a different perception of that act or remark or post?  One based on THEIR life experiences, which are almost certainly different than your own.  Doesn't mean they're right...doesn't mean you are either.  It just means you perceive things differently, and maybe that's not really such an awful thing.

What if a difference of perception, or opinion for that matter, doesn't necessarily have to be an end-of-the-world, burn-the-place-down kind of thing?  I, for one, think I would like that better.

Every time you experience something new, it changes you.  It changes us all.  Every single day.  But here's the interesting thing:  Even though every experience won't be a good one, and every person you meet won't be a friend, as long as you understand the difference of perceptions, it doesn't have to radically change your overall view of life in general.  You can be afraid of a situation and still work through it.  You can disagree with someone and still be kind.  Your perception of that event or that person might not change, but I bet it will.  So maybe the next time, you're not quite as afraid.  Or it's not quite as hard  to be kind.

Does that mean you'll never have an argument with someone you disagree with?  Probably not--I mean, that's human nature, after all.  But if understanding perception stops me, even once, from a hurtful reaction to someone...folks, that's a win!

It starts with one.  And then one more.  And before you know it, here we all are, living our lives on this same planet, with billions of different perceptions of the same shared events.  And we're okay.

Now let's get real--that's the fluffy, rainbow, unicorn version of life that is most likely never going to happen.  For sure not in my lifetime.  Changing the world is, after all, a pretty big task.  And we're so busy with work and soccer practice and the orthodontist...how could we possibly ever find time to change the world?  Never gonna happen.

So maybe I'll just start with my own little world.  And just try to react to the people in it with a little more kindness and a little less knee-jerk defense.  Maybe that won't change the world...but it might change mine.  And theirs too, just a little.

And that seems like a good start.

At least, in my perception.

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