We have all heard the phrase “Perception is reality”. People use it all the time, often to justify behaviour. But what does it really mean? Where did it come from? When in fact the two words are in actuality, opposite. Kinda. Perception is basically my thoughts on any given matter whereas reality is just that. What is real. Not biased or clouded by personal thoughts or ideas. So why even use this particular idiom? I guess in a way it explains in a succinct manner why people say, think and do what they say think and do. And then justify what they say, think and do. Its all about justification. Usually after the fact and often in response to someone calling us out.
The other day I decided to paint my dining room. I am not great with colour. Or interior decorating. I know what looks good when I see it, however I don’t have the skillset to achieve that look. I have chosen the term eclectic to describe my home and decorating style when in actuality, hodge podge is nearer the truth. I was tired of the odd mustard yellow I chose years ago. In my minds eye I chose a lovely beige, After two coats it was obviously yellow. Not in a good way. After living with it for many years I chose a very pale grey with a tinge of green that would complement the green in the living room as well as flow nicely into the kitchen. The shared wall in the kitchen was a bright blue white. I painted in the evening which really doesn’t show you the true end product so after two coats when I stepped back to admire my handiwork, I was somewhat dismayed. It looked yellow. I went into the kitchen and looked at it from that angle. The wall looked grey. Back and forth from room to room. Huh! The soft lights in the dining room with all of the wood made the walls appear pale yellow. Much nicer than the previous colour but yellow none the less. The reality is I have a grey dining room. The perception is, its yellow.
As a child I was an observer. I played and mimicked as all children do and I accepted life and society as a hard and fast state. There were rules and methods and generally agreed upon actions. You know. Societal norms. In time, as I was exposed to more and more of the outside world I started to question more. Eventually I found as I aged that I was less willing to conform without more answers to the question “Why?” I admit to years of confusion and as I explained to my husband later, I just assumed everyone thought the same as me. He thought that was a very egocentric idea when in actuality there really wasn’t any evidence to the contrary Or so I thought. As I matured, during those “formative years” I came to realize that the people in my life, friends, teachers, family, all saw things just a little differently. In time, I found quite a lot of opposition to my views and ideas. To me things seemed straightforward and clear. Yet, I was questioned for my views. I started to think about the way I saw the world. In fact I started to question the way I thought. Today there is a term for that. Metacognition. Thinking about thinking.
When you start to focus on how you think, you become more aware of why you chose certain actions. Throughout my formal education years, I seemed to have evolved in my learning styles. As a youngster I did whatever work was put in front of me and I excelled at things that were easy. Like Math. I was already quite good in Math and so I enjoyed it which then led to doing better in Math. Mainly because of the recognition and positive reinforcement I received. It was easy for me to get that feel good praise from the teacher. I was always chatty and lacked focus and by the time I hit junior high, school was a social club where I played sports. My marks dropped as I did absolutely nothing to learn. I didn’t bring books home because I knew I wouldn’t do homework anyways. My parents were very hands off. I hit my natural intelligence peak in grade ten. After that my marks plummeted as I did nothing from home. All of my learning was done in class and projects from home were completed last minute. I barely graduated from high school and my eyes opened. I was in a college for Grade 12 so I was able to take university classes at the same time as I completed Grade 12. Luckily first year University classes were a little easier as I chose them. I also decided to study. My room mate did it all the time. After years of not studying, I had no idea how to do it. Luckily, I am quite adept at memorization. I developed a process of repetition which allowed me to do very well on tests. It served me well until a human physiology class in University. Yes I got in. Barely. One question on a test had us define and explain an action potential. which is basically a nerve impulse that enables communication between cells. I drew the picture that I memorized from my notes and explained the process word for word from my notes. All of which had been copied from the teachers notes that were written on the blackboard. She gave me a zero with the explanation that my answer proved I knew how to memorize but she wasn’t convinced that I understood the material. Well duh! I had no idea what I was talking about. I challenged and through higher powers I was awarded the marks. The only thing I really learned in the class was that I truly didn’t care about understanding the world. Memorizing was the means to an end. Sad way to go through life.
In time I began to realize that I had certain skillsets although I was sorely lacking in so many other areas. Because I wasn’t interested. As it turns out I very seldom saw the practical side of life. My grade ten math teacher, Mr. Brown told me I was good at math so I should take Physics. So I did. I hated Physics. I was quite upset with Mr. Brown for even suggesting it. Math has rules and as a memorizer, math was easy. Follow the rules. Physics uses math. We did a whole lot of experiments, collected the data and used math to prove things. Oh my goodness how bored was I? Some things were fun. We shot a bullet into a block of wood suspended by string. It then moved a piece of paper. We were able to calculate the speed of the bullet based on the distance the paper moved. But who cares? No one. Certainly not me. Another lesson learned. Practicality wasn’t my thing. In time I found that although I seem spacy I have a logical mind. I see sequences. When doing IQ tests, I am able to follow sequences very easily. You know the type. Which box comes next? Which number comes next? It just pops out at me. It wasn’t until I was married with children that I became more interested with metacognition. Marriage brings you into close contact with people who not only act different than you might but they seem to think a lot different as well. Suddenly it consumed me and I entered into an experiment that lasted years. Why do I think this way? More importantly, why do people think I am wrong?
This is where perception comes in. Perception is the act of using our senses to absorb information and using that information to understand the world around us. Initially our perception is simple as babies. We use experiences to help us understand. The more experiences we have the greater we are able to use perceptions to group the world into understandable areas. We see fire and we learn it is hot. Either we touch it or someone grabs our hand and shouts, “Don’t touch that, you’ll burn yourself.” The panic and increased pitch in their voice lets us know there is a problem. Perception is a form of learning. Just as my learning style changed over time, so do our perceptions change. Eventually we use less and less of our senses and more of our historical memories which have been stored up inside of us. Our perceptions and our ability to perceive are both distorted by our social groups as well as our levels of exposure to the world. There is a political divide among rural and urban populations. People in cities are exposed to more diverse people, cultures, foods, religions and so on. It has an affect on our perceptions. Cities are everchanging, vibrant and in constant motion. Rural areas are more comfortable with the status quo. Tradition. How things have always been done. I was born and raised in rural southern Alberta, well known for its right wing politics and its “redneck” attitudes. I knew from a young age I didn’t belong. After 38 years of city life, I could never live in a small town again. Mainly because of the lack of restaurants. I love going out to eat. My politics just don’t line up either. I am quite socially left leaning. In a city, my neighbours don’t care. In a small town it wouldn’t go over as well. When we limit our exposure to new experiences we limit our ability to understand the world we live in. When we judge differences based on our limited perceptions we do ourselves a disfavour and others.
People also tend to socialize with those who are likeminded. This is another way our perceptions are influenced. Most of us want to be liked and of course are uncomfortable with confrontation. Often we just go along with things. Social media has created quite the platform for bullies as anyone with a soft quiet personality is often unable to truly express their views for fear of retaliation. If we only surround ourselves with people and situations that support our views, we really are limiting our lives as well as our perceptive abilities. My husband always said we need to subscribe to news agencies that go against our political views so we are able to see both sides of the equation. If we tune out all that our opponents say we may miss something of vital importance. That one idea they have that could make a huge impact. One class I loved in University was statistics. It was mathematical, with rules, so… One important aspect to statistics is the size of the sample used. The larger the sample, the greater accuracy we derive from the results of the tests. So too is it with perception. The greater input we have, the better our abilities to draw conclusions. That means listening not only to those that agree with us but also giving equal time to those who disagree.
So, all that being sad, in the end we just may end up hitting our heads against the wall in life. Because perception truly is reality. Who I am and what I stand for is mostly intrinsic. How I am perceived by those around me will vary based on the memories and experiences of those people. That is the way of the world as well. The perceptions people derive become their Bibles. Their truth. Regardless of reality, joe public will stick to his guns based on preconceived notions and what his friends brother said on Facebook. All around us we have the world facing a crisis. How we see the world respond tells us who to trust. Now and in the future. We aren’t always to blame for distorting reality to suit our needs. In fact, quite often we do it in a very unconscious manner. Let me tell you though what I am learning from this pandemic. This is a small world we live on. You can tell a lot about a country by how they care for their people. More importantly, how they care for their neighbours. I haven’t been comfortable with my neighbour for quite a few years. Three in fact. It’s the same neighbour but he has changed. I used to feel safe but that’s different since the last time they cleaned house. It doesn’t matter if you are prepared for tragedy or illness. If your neighbour is unprepared and has the gun he will just take your stuff. I have learned that my neighbour perceives me as weak and unimportant. Good to know. I hope he learns one thing. Do not confuse kindness with weakness. ‘Cause his perception is wrong.