People’s perceptions are amazing things. They can be extremely strong motivators. They fascinate me not only from a human behavior standpoint but because they matter so much in life. Not necessarily to me, mind you, but in life they do.
Perceptions are what mainly help us form opinions and cast judgment about situations and other people. That’s why they’re important. They also are what help us shape ourselves and determine who we are as people. All that is is pretty important stuff.
But they all are different, and they all are formed differently and they matter in different ways, and even the way we perceive perceptions makes a big difference. That sounds confusing, but if someone thinks others perceive them some way, even if it’s accurate or not, that will determine behavior and future thought.
Some people are capable of looking at others and situations from different perspectives, which is a valuable skill. Some people can’t ever change their perception, and some people consciously make their perception a certain way just so they can live with themselves.
I used to say perceptions are all that matter, but I’ve changed that stance. Of course, things matter more than perceptions, but they’re still crucial to how we live our lives. Perceptions are a two-way phenomenon. They matter in how we perceive others, and they matter, sometimes more to some than others, to how we perceive ourselves. And the different angles and accuracies of those perceptions vary greatly, which is where things get interesting.
Our perceptions change through life and depend on what stage of life we’re in, and who we live among, and where our priorities lie, which also shift all the time. Despite how dynamic perceptions are they seem to maintain a pretty strong steady linear direction through life, even with all the variance, give or take 5% either way. If I had to guess, I’d imagine they are formed during our most malleable years, which are through childhood, teen years, and early twenties. That’s when it seems people get their set of lenses through which they view the remainder of life. Like going to the optometrist and being given a set of glasses and sent on our way to navigate, cope with, judge and behold the world around us and those in it.
More often than not I see people judge books by their covers, instead of waking a mile in their shoes. Those are two ways of saying that some people have a narrow perspective view, and others have experience, wisdom, intelligence, and knowledge enough to try and view others from different angles. This ability is what places people in different political camps, different socio-economic strata, and different levels in life.
When I look around I’m not sure I’d be wrong to state that most people worry about how others perceive them more than how they perceive themselves. Meaning, the concern about perceptions is disproportionately placed outwardly and how total strangers and meaningless people, or just a very small subset of people that really don’t care one way or another, perceive us. It’s why people buy cars that are so over the top luxurious the King of Prussia would be embarrassed to drive them, or people worry about what neighborhood they live in, or how big their house is or what kind of clothes they wear, and so on. Some people actually pay money to designers to advertise the designer on themselves to make sure people’s perception is something they’ve crafted in their heads to mean something other than what they are. And that seems to be what perceptions are most about. People trying to manipulate other people’s perceptions to be something dreamt up in the person’s head that isn’t even real.
That has more to do with integrity, self -respect, self-esteem, maturity, accountability and a list of traits that some people concern themselves with and others don’t. It has to do with character and what a person does when no one’s watching. When no one knows or will ever know your behavior. If the whole world were blind, how would you dress? How would you act? My guess here is that if surveyed and linear regression was applied, you’d see an effect where there are two camps: One that holds themselves to a higher standard, or aspires to a higher standard, even if not achievable, and those that don’t. In other words, a group of people that have no standards, don’t worry about them and don’t care, but they DO care about perceptions. That’s how strong perceptions are.
Some people simply rely on stereotypes to form their perceptions. Lots of people do that, including much of Hollywood. That aligns with people that have equally narrow perceptions. I don’t know about others, but I’ve had people have the wrong perceptions about me since I can ever remember. Being a Southerner. Going to prep school. Being a deadhead. Having an MBA. You name it, people will form judgments about me knowing nothing more about me than what they can perceive from a label.
And personally, I don’t care about any of those things. Because they alone don’t shape my character. Having a three-year-old child and setting an example for her is what dictates how I want to be perceived. I am concerned about how my daughter perceives me, but I don’t worry about it, because I behave just as I would if she were around even when she isn’t. I have standards for myself, and aspire to higher standards, even if I can’t achieve them. It’s (just one) a reason why I keep a clean, neat home, from top to bottom. I don’t have many visitors, but when people stop by, they’ll leave with a perception that I can manage my life and home and surroundings well. And I care about the environment I raise my daughter in, and set a good example for her. It’s why I make my bed every morning and I make sure Cecelia sees me do it. I’m teaching her how to manage her life and maintain personal control over her environment. Not everyone can do something as simple, but important, as that.
On the other hand, some people spend all their time creating what they want others to see, as best as they can. They stage themselves and use lies, deceit, omissions of fact, and any manipulative tool at hand (but usually reach for the two or three they’ve honed and are comfortable with over their lifetime) and are only worried about how they believe others perceive them. They’re superficial and transparent usually, and devoid of integrity and meaning. People’s perceptions are their own reality can be quite true, and some people, who don’t mind lying to themselves(and others), will change perceptions to create their own reality. And that reality can be wildly different from actual reality, believe me.
That seems to be where a lot of the trouble lies. When you have one group who cares about the accuracy of perceptions, and another who is indifferent and self-absorbed.
“Truth” doesn’t seem to be a central point to thought anymore. My ex-wife told me she doesn’t care about the truth. No kidding. Our freshman congresswoman from NYC, AOC also doesn’t care about the truth. So how do we manage perceptions when no one cares about the truth, which is the foundation of discourse?
People will eventually and more and more often, find themselves in situations where emotions and stakes are high and you’re in a position to do two things. Continue to engage with your adversary as they try to drag you down the low road into the gutter, or walk upwards and way from them politely and with humility and as much grace as you can muster. It’s harder than it should be sometimes, but in the end, it’s always worth it. There is nothing to gain by going low, and a lot to lose, which will be difficult to regain in time. Often it’s respect, peace of mind, and dignity which takes time and effort to build. Not to mention respect and dignity are traits that are relative to the people you choose to associate with or aspire to.
That said, taking the high road is more for personal betterment than something that should be done to impress or even require an audience. It has to do with integrity, which is how you carry yourself and make decisions when no one is around, and you know you are choosing the right path versus the wrong one. Always take the right path, and you’ll have nothing to regret or worry about. There should be reasonable and justifiable reasons for choosing the right path of course, should anyone ever ask. No one should, but if you can’t defend the reason for making the choice made with solid, prudent, sound, intelligent, honest, truth-based responses, then you may want to sleep on it some more or give it some more time before responding or deciding. As you get older, your gut will be able to tell you what’s right a lot of the time, but your gut should always have reasons you can write down to support it.
I’m starting things off in no particular order, but this first being a lesson I found myself teaching Cecelia the other day when playing Legos.
We have no lack of legos and Lego people around here, and we enact play situations by building buildings, restaurants, hospitals, playgrounds, or whatever is needed in our Lego village to create a world for our 100+ actors and they can live out their imaginary lives, directed and put into play by my daughter Cecelia.
We have a bucket full of Lego people of all sorts of professions and walks of life, some being obvious as to what gender and role they are, and others not so much. But we do have a policeman. And he was called upon the other day for help.
This made me pause and ask Cecelia what do Policemen do? Her answer, as I suspected, and pass no judgment on, was a typical one, but an incorrect one, and one that should be learned now. I’ve asked some adults related to her the same question and gotten the same ignorant answer. So I wanted to make sure she was provided the correct information so she could approach police correctly and without doubt as to what their purpose is.
Her answer was: “To put people in jail.” which is wrong on every level. Our society today has no small number of adults who believe the same thing. Of course, it firstly depends on whose side of the law you’re on. But even then, that’s a technically incorrect answer.
Judges and the judicial system decide who and for how long people are incarcerated. Not police. And that’s only part of their jobs. This is all supposed to be taught in school and from parents, but the ball has been dropped hard and by many people for a long time on this area, as well as a lot of very serious others that used to exist. That’s why I’m writing this now for my child.
But police exist, in America at least, to help, serve and protect our citizens, and it should be pointed out, usually not asking for a fair amount in exchange a lot of the time, depending on the precinct.
I have friends who were, and still are, police. We have a lot of them in America, and need them. And when you have so many individuals in such a huge group that has to be managed so wildly in scale and scope and style across this land, you are going to have some pop up that aren’t there for the right reasons, some that do their jobs better than others, and some that do it all for reasons all their own. It’s usually a thankless job, and depending who is in the White House, it can even make your job overly deadly and reviled, which isn’t the best perspective to have on people that are just that: people, who stake their lives on protecting strangers from harm day in and day our for no or little thanks or pay or respect in some circumstances.
But when someone has a problem, or trouble comes calling, the first thing they do is call the police to help. And they respond, to manage the situation as they’ve been trained. They are there because they want to help, and have a job to do which is a job you can’t provide yourself, on your own. They show up when trouble is brewing, not to make trouble. And the people that see them as adversaries see them that way because they are on the wrong side of the law. Simple as that. Same as firefighters and doctors and nurses. They are around to help solve your problems when they become out of your control. That’s why we have police.
Andy Griffith was a Sherrif and is more like I perceive the police in general. The person I found myself in trouble with growing up all the time ended up becoming a Sherrif’s deputy. Police are humans, and they want to help. They aren’t infallible, just as I or you aren’t. And maybe out of the hundreds of thousands of officers that are out there, there are a few that aren’t the best people, just as in any large group of any people. But to consider them adversarial means you have been raised on the wrong side of the law. And if you have a problem with them, it usually means you did something wrong, otherwise they usually wouldn’t be there. But they do come around to help when called just as much as when they’re called to intervene. They have hard jobs to do, so the best thing to do is respect that, understand that and appreciate the fact they keep peace and try to keep you and me safe from harm.
Similar to previous lessons but entirely different, is what to do when it comes time to judge people, and circumstances when making decisions.
No one should go around being judgemental, but there are times when it’s necessary in order to size up things and make choices. Usually, three options should be made: The best possible outcome, the most likely outcome, and the worst outcome. You want to be prepared for all three so that you’ll have options. You always want to have options, and the worst place to find yourself is painted into a corner. Preparation is key to this. It involves training your self to think differently sometimes, but it’s for the best. Such as attacking the hardest problems first, acting quickly so as not to lose out, and asking yourself “if not now, when?”
Everyone in this world is facing a crisis of some type. It might not be a crisis to you, but in scope and scale to them, it certainly is. Crises are relevant to the people who find themselves having to manage them, and what their experience and skill level is handling such problems. As you get older, you go through growing exercises that aren’t fun at all, but they make you stronger and better suited to make hard decisions. The right decisions. They mettle your steel in other words.
I’ve had to handle some hard-core situations, to me. And later I learn about someone else that has just had to handle even worse situations than I did, which helps keep things in perspective. Everyone is fighting some type of personal battle at all times, and you have to keep that in mind. That might be an addiction, going through a divorce, being indicted on criminal charges by people you once trusted and held closely, or whatever. What seems simple to one person might seem insurmountable to another. The case is different for every single person on Earth, and when you consider there are over 7 billion people on Earth right now, that’s a lot of worry and problems at once.
But until you’ve walked a mile in the other person’s shoes, you really don’t have the ability to judge them. People end up homeless for circumstances that may or may not be out of their control, but you have to consider that almost no one strives to wind up in that situation. However, it happens. That doesn’t make them a bad person, or a good person, or any type of person, other than one who may need a helping hand. Everyone needs help at some point in life, and to declare that you don’t can’t possibly be true. No one has survived any length of time on this planet without the help of another person at some point. And that doesn’t make anyone weaker or stronger than the other, it just means someone was thankfully around to help when needed. Asking for that help is something people have a hard time doing, but that might be another post. That tends to have to do with humility, pride, embarrassment, or other factors, but nothing so superficial should put a person in a place they could have avoided.
Humans are full of flaws. One big one is being able to even admit that. But once you accept the fact that no one is perfect and humility is a characteristic to be sought and respected, it makes life easier.
This lesson has to do with standards, which you yourself set. Don’t let others set them for you or tell you what they should be. That said, set them higher than you believe you can achieve but are realistically attainable. That’s the trick. Only you will know where your horizon lies, and you have to gauge that yourself with accurate measuring tools, markers and milestones. This is where experience and help from experienced individuals such as parents can be useful. Learn from their mistakes and let them help with setting your sights on target.
When confronted with a decision that’s serious and has meaningful, long-lasting implications and consequences, if you can, give yourself some time to process it. Often your first thought is the right one, but better to be sure by evaluating the choices and the possible outcomes and consequences before making these types of decisions. These often involve others that aren’t even aware they’re in your radius of thought and have ripple effects that have to be contemplated thoroughly. We are in a time now where mind-mapping software can be helpful, to ensure all outcomes are taken into account and plan out what might happen in best most-likely- and worst case scenarios. Doing this arduous, rigorous, but necessary task will help remove regretful decisions later and eliminate hurting others that might not even be involved.
I used to do crossword puzzles a lot. The NYT in particular, which I recommend for building a nice vocabulary and learning some trivia and stretching your brain some, but overall the NYT should be regarded as mostly birdcage liner. One thing I found helpful to complete them was to walk away for a while and take a walk with a dog and get some fresh air and exercise. When I returned to the puzzle, I often found I could solve the remaining boxes with a refreshed perspective. That same is true with small and big problems that arise in life. Walk away for a while and regroup if possible.
Throughout my life, I’ve been a misfit. Didn’t quite fit in with this crowd, didn’t form with that crowd. It’s a search I think every person undertakes whether they want to admit or not, but it’s obvious when you just have a look around. People are always wanting to be different but conform to some crowd. It’s a lizard brain instinct that has to do with birds forming and flying in flocks and moving as one unit I think as fish do in tightly formed schools to feel safe en masse, but ultimately makes them just as exposed as their neighbors are to danger and their other imaginary fears.
Growing up, it’s a nonstop pursuit, to “fit in” but at the same time not relinquish what is ours as individuals and give up what we still cherish, whatever that may be. People try to dress like others, make their har look like others, and go through all sorts of lengths, unsuccessfully always, to become something they aren’t. People buy Harley Davidson motorcycles, and make huge life choices that perplex their spouses and neighbors and family as to what they’re thinking. What they’re thinking is that should they pretend to be something else by adorning themselves with artificial and temporary accessories, it will transform them into something better. That’s my amateur psychological take on it, at least.
The obsession with tattoos is something I’ve watched from the sidelines with utter disbelief. Our whole county, or at least region I inhabit here in the midwest/southern/crossroads/nowheresville area named Louisville, KY, has embraced tattoos and physical mutilation as something that makes sense on some financial and aesthetic level.
I’m not judging others for any reason whatsoever, as I have no right or reason to. I just like people watching and human behavior interests me, individually and collectively. I’m one of the most exotic people in Jefferson County, Kentucky, however, because I have no permanent stains on or under my skin and have no plans to put them there. Slowly, though the entire population has marked themselves with a graphic, or a dozen, that they’ve seen somewhere that under no duress or influence of narcotics presumably, they’ve spent scare resources on to carefully embellish themselves with stain to show the world….something. Each indelible mark surely has it’s own motive and tale, which must be presented by the holder, but is made visible when each time and moment is just right.
I’ve hired creative employees who have sleeves of tattoos and symbols around their head and ears of Harry Potter reason, and it makes no difference to me. Their work is what I’m interested in, and they did good work. Male and female, all tattooed, of different generations, with different impulses that made them obtain their body art. To each their own. Just as now, I hope the majority of the people I am around don’t perceive me in some imaginary light because I choose to not make myself graffiti.
What might seem like a great idea at one time must be thought through with some foresight. Are you going to look back at yourself in 60 years and possibly not think maybe that is an idea that should be given more thought? Same with the reason I choose to wear conservative clothing and dress in a manner that sets time and fads aside. I can look at photos of myself when I was a child, a teenager, a young man, and now an older man and there’s usually nothing outlandish that stares back at me. I don’t follow trends or fads and tend to hold onto stable, foundational, time-tested, structurally sound, reasonable ideas, fashions, music, cars, and everything that surrounds me that I utilize day to day. I don’t give thought to what the media, associates, friends, celebrities or politicians or others that simply have shallow, personal, superficial agendas at stake tell me to.
Listen to your inner voice. Listen to your gut. Listen to your instinct. That usually is what’s right and will carry you the length though life. Not silly fads, distractions, or things that someone else thinks is “cool.” It’s not. Being yourself is what’s cool.