Monday, April 13, 2009

Reality of perception 4-15-09 Editor's column

One of the more interesting statements that I have ever heard is that “perception is reality.”

That is to say that, what we perceive is what must be real.

However, I’ve always found this statement to be somewhat off-putting. Mainly because I’ve always felt that perception is simply unrealized intrigue - a lack of effort to understand and instead settling with the answer that is already provided.

This follows along the same lines as “don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” meaning that just because you see something’s outward appearance and it says one thing, doesn’t mean it can’t be another thing entirely.

For example, many of us are less than willing to admit that when we see individuals who dress differently from the social “norms,” we perceive them to be a certain way. The same is true when applied to other areas such as what people drive, whether or not they have tattoos, where they live and how they talk.

Some of the more common perceptions are that the people who drive nice cars or wear nice clothing are obviously rich. Another is that people who have visible tattoos are obviously trouble or have a checkered past.

Then you get into the area of how people speak. Perhaps there is someone you know that speaks English as a second language and thus has a heavy foreign accent. In a conversation with that individual and another person who speaks great English, more often than not we find that less attention is paid to the individual who speaks the foreign language.

However, if we perceive these things to be true, does that really make them reality or does it simply mean we are too lazy to see beyond what is easiest to accept?

I tend to lean towards the latter, if only for the simple fact that I have a hard time believing that everything should be taken at face value. If that were the case, I would have never taken my English professor seriously, especially considering his thick Congolese accent.

I may have the more accepted accent, but he’s the one with the Ph.D in English and the one that speaks three languages.

My point is, while it is easier to accept things as they are - to not ask questions or dig any deeper than outward appearances - it is often more rewarding to simply ask questions and learn about someone for yourself.

The next time you meet someone with a sleeve of tattoos, ask what they mean or where they were done. The next time you hear an accent, ask where it is from. If you meet someone who drives a nice car, try talking shop.

Communities shouldn’t just grow in numbers - they should also grow in knowledge about one another.

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