It might seem obvious that perception matters. After all, first impressions form quickly (and they matter). After all, traditional jobs run on office politics; the ability of newspapers to provide neutral, objective and accurate information is questionable; in Hollywood, most celebs believe that all publicity is good publicity for the purpose of creating a buzz and from elementary school to college we’ve all had fake friends.
But is this caricatured world we live in, enough to justify why perception matters so much? While we all seem to agree with the fact that everything is not one-dimensional and that deeper layers exist, how many of us really take this to the heart and refuse to buy into the fashion of mindless conformity?
What happens instead is: we see people in one situation and most of the time we assume it reflects their behaviour in all situations. Most of the time we seem to forget how much truth is hidden within the phrase « it depends on the situation » and we’re quick to label people, even though we may only be seeing a fraction of what is actually going on. We continually make inferences based on misguided beliefs about other people. It’s like most of us have made ourselves comfortable with the illusion that convinces us the most.
Maybe some of the reasons perception matters is because of our natural tendency to jump to conclusions without knowing all the facts, or even considering what the facts may be. Maybe perception matters because we tend to lose sight of the small factors that have huge impacts on the people we interact with and we let the WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) syndrome invading our minds. Maybe it’s because we are less and less mindful or too busy rushing through life instead of stopping and paying attention.
There are actually plenty situations that have a deeper meaning, yet we refuse to invest time in any given situation; we refuse to investigate further and to pull the WYSIWYG veil from our eyes in order to see situations and people as they are.
Plus, as everybody is not an expert in social cognition, very few understand that the situations we find ourselves in greatly affect our perception of them. Not only most people are not fully aware about how the context, the environment around us is shaping our innermost instincts and our most private thoughts without even realizing it, but they’re also lacking the techniques in order to interpret the situations that are influencing the individuals’ behavior and to better respond to these situations.
This is why I strongly recommend the reading of Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World by Sam Sommers. This book is a real eye-opener filled with research findings and countless examples and social psychology experiments that show how the situational context in which individuals find themselves shape their behavior. In this book, the author gives several concrete suggestions that open readers’ mind to the peripheral context of situations and thus, preventing them to fall within the WYSIWYG routine.
I admit the title of the article is a little bit provocative and that I’m one of those people who don’t believe in perception as being the reality. Yet, I learnt that it matters. Because, hey, how many of us realize that situations, and not perceptions, are the ones that truly matter?
How many of us realize that people are not always what they seem in one situation? And that a person’s authentic nature is a series of shifting paintings, mirrors, images that establish themselves as he/she relates to different people and contexts?
Each time we’re making statements about someone without mentioning “in that particular situation” we forget that ordinary contexts, from where we are, to what we see around us, to who else is with us, influence and transform how we behave and what character traits we exhibit in a “particular situation”. Moreover, we assume that a person’s character is static and unchanging from episode to episode, from situation to situation (and it is not).
Given the variables and differences among and within cultures which may be expressed in many ways—through dress, speech, food, values, life philosophy – we should be even more cautious about making simple generalizations.
Then, deep down, we all know that our devotion to society, to its traditions and norms is mostly a marriage of convenience and that the great affair with life is to live as variously as possible and become closer to our deepest dreams of the unconscious. This is why it’s even more complicated to assume you know someone when what goes on inside someone’s mind and soul doesn’t show on the outside.
I’m sure that by understanding the powerful influence that context has in our lives and using this knowledge to rethink how we see the world, everybody will be more effective in their interactions with others.
We can always choose how we look at things and people. I truly believe that if we’d observe more and assume less, if we’d be more considerate, more open-minded, if we’d stop categorizing people, if we’d stop to naïvely accept what we just see without keeping everything in context and start reminding ourselves that when viewing and judging the actions of others we need to always consider their situation, we could all live together more harmoniously, forgive easier and be more compassionate ones towards others.
But this divine reality is of such a nature that it cannot be understood directly except by those who choose to make themselves loving, pure in heart, and rich in spirit. By those who managed to free themselves from the attachment to their own ego, to the materialistic view of the universe, to indifference, rejection, misunderstanding and immersed in this world with a compassionate behavior.