“Your perception of me is a reflection of you; my reaction to you is an awareness of me.”
I’ve been enjoying my visit with my niece and her best friend. We’ve talked, I’ve listened, we’ve laughed, and they’ve played with (i.e. tormented) my kids. Right now they are “watching” Pete’s Dragon while on their phones. They are keeping me wholly entertained. One of the things that we’ve talked about concerns something that’s been going on with someone they know. It’s not my story to tell but it did give me a subject that I thought I’d post about. It’s something that I’ve dealt with all of my life as I’m sure most people have themselves. It’s about perception and judgment based on one’s perception.
All of my life I’ve been judged. I have been judged because I’m short. I’ve been judged by my hair color, and my gender. I’ve also been judged by my skin color. I have been treated like I was dumb and couldn’t understand “big” words because I was blonde. (Here’s a bit of advice, if you are a short, blonde female, do not walk into a military recruitment center-the blonde jokes will proceed within seconds.) I apparently couldn’t understand weight issues because I was always so thin (until I had kids). And because I’m white, I must have grown up privileged and have always had enough, that I don’t know what it means to need something or to be persecuted. It always bothers me because I try not to judge others. I’m the last person on earth who has the right to judge you. I don’t know you. I don’t know your story. I don’t know if you were the kid who was made fun of at school for being different or if you had every advantage available to you. I only know my story and I would hope that you would try to understand that what I show you is not completely who I am.
What if you knew I grew up poor and that my family went without electricity for two years while I was in high school? What if you knew that I got a job when I was 16 so I could help my mom pay bills because my stepdad didn’t want to get a job? Would that change your opinion about me if you met me on the street? Would you respect me because of it or would you look down on me because I’m not in your class level? What if I said I didn’t approve of something that you do? How would that affect your perception of me? How about if you met me today while I was out walking with my niece and her friend? If you saw where we were walking or what we were wearing would that give you an accurate perception of me? What if you saw me with my friend Michelle who is Goth and has several tattoos? Does that make me exactly like her? I can tell you right now I’m as different from her as she is from me, and yet she is one of my best friends. My mother told me once when I was in my teens that I don’t take people at face value. At first, I thought she was saying something criticizing about me. I didn’t know what she meant. It took me a long time to understand that she was paying me a compliment. What she meant is that I don’t take people as they appear, that I look deeper into a person than what they show on the surface. That meant so much to me because I have always tried to look at a person’s heart rather than their appearance. That’s why Michelle and I are friends. I looked deeper and found one of the most understanding and sensitive hearts, though she hides it behind sarcasm and attitude. She also has a wicked sense of humor and is not afraid to be blunt and honest with you. She’s also completely loyal and we have respect for one another, especially since I know that she has no problem embarrassing me. (It did get me a date though, which in turn made the boy popular since he was younger than me. But he was cute and nice, and it was worth it because he became a friend later on.)
And you know that saying that you should define a person by their actions? Yeah, I don’t like that saying. Actions are deceiving. Sometimes what you see isn’t the truth. Sometimes what a person does might be for a reason you can’t see or don’t know. I am not defined by my past or by my actions. But I am judged by them. I could be the kindest person in the world but one person might perceive my kindness as interference, or as pity. What if I were in my car and I cut you off because I was in a hurry? You’d probably get more than mad and have quite a few choice words for me. But what if you knew that I was rushing home because my house was burning or because I was trying to get to the hospital where my father lay dying? (Actually, he died in his home but how would you know that if I didn’t tell you?) Would you feel bad if you knew I had a good reason for cutting you off and would you excuse my behavior because of it?
How does your perception color your life? Do you see someone as they appear to be, or do you look into their eyes and try to understand where they might have come from? When you say something unkind did you think that you might make that person cry? How many unkind things have you thought about someone? One kind word can make a person’s day and it costs nothing. One unkind word can destroy someone. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. I heard this statement once that what you perceive to be a flaw in someone’s personality is not a flaw in their character but in your own. What do you see in someone you don’t like? Is it possible that maybe it’s something in yourself that you don’t like? If you think someone is being over-righteous about something is it because they are exactly that way or could it be that you know they are right but you just don’t want to be talked down to? Do you blame someone else for your unhappiness or could it be you are causing your own unhappiness? I think about these things often. I try to remember that we all have problems, that we all have a past, and that we all have feelings and thoughts that we don’t share. I try to find one nice thing to say to someone I meet because you never know if it’s your words that will make them have a better day. And it’s so easy. See that girl wearing the glasses? Tell her she has beautiful eyes but be sincere about it. The boy who helps you with your groceries? Tell him you appreciate his help. It such a little thing to do and so easy. For me, something as simple as holding a door open for me when my hands are full is such a big kindness. Oh, and that pregnant woman or old man who just got on the crowded train/bus would be truly grateful for the seat that you could choose to let them have if you thought about it.
Don’t let your perception cause you to prematurely judge people. Keep in mind that we all have a past, we all have bad days, and sometimes what we say in one moment is not an accurate impression of who we really are. Sometimes our perceptions are subjective to the time and place and experiences going on at the time. Sometimes we all just need a little patience, a little consideration, and a lot of compassion for others. Sometimes we are mirrors reflecting back what others choose to show, but try to remember that we are all interconnected one to another. Sometimes, we just need to perceive that our perceptions are wrong.