Perception is a funny thing. We all have perceptions of people and things, but our perceptions can be slanted or incomplete based on our contexts and how well we know a person.
For example, tonight I was hanging out doing dumb but fun online quizzes with the middle schooler with whose family I live. We looked up how romantic we were, what color our brains were and so on. On one of these quizzes, we had to pick an occupation out of a limited list. Since the quiz offered nothing journalism related, I chose the most preferable option on the short list: realtor. After I clicked the box, my friend Hannah referred to the options and said, “Really? I would’ve chosen military for you.”
What?! Anyone who knows me well will know I hate war and am not athletic. As a creative person who has never fit in with any one group, I also prefer to work outside the established boundaries, unlike the strict and formal military culture where, to my knowledge, orders are always followed as given.
I expressed why I would not work in the military, and Hannah admitted that she probably thought that because of my hair. (Half of it is shaved.) Because we’re still getting to know each other, Hannah supposed that out of my limited occupation options, I’d choose the military. She perceived this based this on my appearance. It’s understandable but also inaccurate.
I think it’s safe to say that we should hold off making judgments based on our initial perceptions of people! Let’s explore this a bit more now—let’s look into contexts.
After we had satisfied our slap-happiness with online quizzes, I went on Facebook to show Hannah a picture, and as I scrolled to find it, she saw a picture of me from the Office of Multicultural Development’s spring banquet. I was wearing a pale rose colored dress and playing an inflatable guitar next to one of my best friends in his snazzy suit and shades. Hannah was surprised to see me in a pink dress and said she couldn’t picture it.
“What do you picture me wearing?” I queried. I love dresses! The picture seemed natural to me.
“Sweats. Jeans maybe,” she replied.
I realized that whenever I see Hannah, I’m at home, and when I’m at home, I crash and am comfortable bumming out. I don’t have to perform like I do at my internship; at home I can wear my ugly sweater, and nobody will care. While I enjoy dressing up, I also enjoy dressing down afterwards, and since Hannah and I only interact in the latter context, her perception of me was slanted.
Let me be clear: Hannah’s a dear. She’s amazing, funny and smart. Together we laughed till she cried. We “died” by laughter at least five times in the space of a few hours.
But as I reflected on the night, I realized her perceptions about me were incomplete and rather one-sided—through no fault of her own but because we’re still new friends and only operate in the context of her house after I’m off work.
Perceptions can be slanted based on our context and based on appearances. People may perceive someone with arched eyebrows as judgmental. In reality, the woman may simply not be aware of the attitude her plucking job conveys. Hair color, attire, makeup, and an assortment of other physical characteristics cause us to perceive people in certain ways, some positive and others negative. I won’t break them down here, but I will add that our most obvious perceptions or judgments may be based on skin color, since that’s probably the first attribute we notice about a person, whether we can verbalize that or not.
To see is to perceive something with our eyes. Judgments follow soon thereafter. We would be wise to hold off these judgments until we know people better since first and even second impressions are never complete.
What do you see when you look at a person?