Perception is a topic that has always intrigued me. I think of it almost as an art form — the imbalance of what an object is and what we believe it is. There is an element of judgement placed on existence. We cannot see things for what they are, because the debate will always be, what is the true definition? Each individual will believe their opinion is correct because it’s what they see, or they choose to anyway.
Take the notion of self for example: who I think I am, may not be in accordance with what those around me see. And it’s not two distinct perspectives, it’s not just them versus me; there are many outsiders deciphering my identity. There is the me my family sees and within family, there are more layers — parents, immediate family and distant family. There are friends — best friends, childhood friends, friends in x club, acquaintances, classmates and so on.
For further confusion, there’s also the layer of what one individual believes others’ perceive. Referring back to self, there’s the me I think I am, there’s the many versions of me those around me think I am, and there’s the me I think others think I am. The last one is important because it speaks to one’s ability to understand what they project versus what is understood. It also reflects intuitive and observance; how well do I understand those around me and their biases?
If I were to consider my family for example, I can safely say that my parents’ perception of me is rooted in some cultural bias. The me they see, or they choose to see, is a variation of the angelic Nigerian daughter, characterized by adjectives like obedient, smart, proper and blah blah. This stock character reflects family honor, is academically and domestically inclined, and does not participate in “disrespectful” activities. That’s the me they want, but what they get in reality is a variation. Sure, I am all those things in some capacity, but there are elements of my life they do not know and choose not to know, even if I present it to them.
If I were to consider certain friend or acquaintance groups, what they perceive of me will also be contingent on factors such as nature of the relationships, context or setting of relationships and length of relationships amongst their own individual bias.
There’s also the diction game. If you believe yourself to be x, y and z traits, others may choose synonyms of negative connotation. Strong could transform into bossy or bitchy, and smart could become arrogance and ego. The choice of diction is the greatest indicator of bias and demonstrates a fundamental truth:
People choose what they want to see because it’s easier to see what they want. Even if you take the initiative to make them understand who you are, or your own understanding of self, do not expect them to simply compromise their bias. Because it’s easier to frame the world around us in simplified perception and it takes greater effort to not only acknowledge complexities but accept them.
So what can one do with this unfortunate truth? Depending on your motives, this knowledge can be empowering. If you are concerned with personal development and want to change some aspect of your life, then you can employ perception in your favor.
When I was 14 years old, I once emailed my friends and asked them to message me with the top adjectives that came to mind when they thought of me. The words that they used were contingent of the ideal me I sought at 14. What I projected in terms of actions and speech was reflective of how I wanted to be understood. I realized that in the attempt of wanting to be this ideal, I became her. I wanted to become the girl who spoke x languages, was an overachiever, identified herself as a runner and so on. While I was striving to do these activities, that identity became associated with me.
Kurt Vonnegut once said that we are what we pretend to be. In this context, think of your ideal self. Consider adjectives of that ideal and the activities and goals this ideal version of you would do. Then do it and just in the process of trying, you will realize you already are the ideals you strive to be.
What about outsider bias you may ask? Well again, it’s all situational. What are your incentives and what do these people mean to you? Are they long term inhabitants of your life? Do a cost/benefit analysis of this individual or group’s worth. Are they worth fighting for? Then make them understand. Sure it may be difficult for you to convince them and for them to acknowledge who you are and what you want, but if your presence means anything to them, they will try. And if they still hold on to their biases or if they are individuals you do not see any long term worth, then the solution is simple. Disregard their opinion and bias in a cloud of profanity and take solace in liberating indifference. In other words, ex them and their perception. As long as you are satisfied with who you are and who you understand yourself to be, their opinion is irrelevant.