The Beauty And Ugliness Of Perception

Whenever confronted with the issue of having to perceive or judge another person, we should immediately stop for a moment and take a look within ourselves not subjectively but objectively. We must make note of the actual good or bad within ourselves.

The Beauty And Ugliness Of Perception

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”—Anais Nin

Those who, compulsorily or by choice, had to study the fine arts would know that the teacher would place students around an object requiring them to draw and paint as they viewed it. Despite the object being the same, results of all the artists would differ depending upon their individual perceptions. To one perhaps, the folds of the tablecloth could appear more than to another; or one was able to distinguish flowers in the pattern while another saw only a graphic design of octagons; one thought the colour was dark blue while another considered it pastel because of the light falling on it. Every drawn picture had a twist to it even though the object was the same. In short, each one of us perceives the same situation with different angles and that is the principal reason why there is so much diversity in people’s opinions.

Drawing is one thing as it is a physical reality, but there are some perceptions that are not material in nature. These too can differ from person to person, but these are more to do with the individual’s mental caliber rather than ground realities. A specific situation can attract multiple impressions. While some may be neutral, others can be more intense either in positive or negative terms. Those who have suffered terminal illnesses are often addressed to as being punished for sins they may have committed whereas on the contrary, many will eagerly come forward to care for the patient. Take the case of Lahore-Sialkot M9 incident that occurred in 2020.

While there were sympathizers with the female victim, there were many others who were questioning in disapproving manner her very act of driving her children past midnight. Such trends reflect a lot on the upbringing, mindset and social norms of the environment in which people are raised.

For a moment, we must pause and take a look within ourselves to understand exactly who we are. It is very easy to comment upon others but extremely difficult to walk in their shoes even a few feet. Each person is a prisoner of their circumstances and it takes immense willpower to escape from this prison, the walls of which do appear invisible, but are highly impregnable. The stream of thought that develops in human minds is the product of their unique state of affairs that they are compelled to face from the day they enter this world. All along this corridor of life where there are brief recesses of serenity, they come across hidden surprises that pop up from nowhere, struggle with obstacles that keep hindering their way, grapple adversaries who make their existence miserable, manage crises that spring from either their own acts or those of their near and dear ones and these things together with the people in their lives make them who we see as such.

Madison Goode writes in her treatise ‘Social Psychology 101—Perceiving others’: “Person perception is not an objective or straightforward process; many subjective factors come to play when determining how someone will view others. It is important to be aware of the cognitive forces that construe one’s perception of others, and also to be aware that perceptions of oneself are often clouded by biases and potentially false attributions.”

There are many who are apparently born with what we know as, a silver spoon. They hardly understand impoverishment, hunger or deprivation, yet they could be considerate towards others. At the same time there are many more who open their eyes in abject poverty and could be prone to viewing the well-off with suspicion although they may be genuinely compassionate. Again, a person can be highly talented while another could have low intelligence quotient or suffering from dyslexia or mental retardation. Obviously, there would be great variance in their mental outlook. Nothing is predictable! Our judgments like our perceptions can be quite flawed.

Most of the time we are overwhelmed by appearances which in many cases can be deceptive, yet there is a tendency to believe in the jargon “first impression is the last impression” that can be quite misleading in certain cases. For example, in our society a woman fully clad from head to toe is seen with more respect compared to one whose style is bolder, but what if the bold one rushes to tear her scarf to stop the bleeding wound of a child in a road accident while the respectful one just looks on? Anyone passing an adverse judgment for the bold one prior to the incident should in reality be ashamed. Similarly, we are quick to infer immorality when we find a person in a brothel without verifying the purpose of his visit.

The people who are perceived and judged by others have the choice of either standing by their principles, thus retaining their sanity or; become so affected that they are eventually rendered sick with anxiety. During the period of colonialism, one of the strategies employed by the subjugators was to pass harsh judgments about the subjects’ way of life, culture, language, civilization and ideology rendering them inferior and detestable to the extent that they, despite being in majority, were easily overpowered by a handful. Such is the lethal consequence of being judgmental that entire nations having rich heritages are forced into submission and sometimes, oblivion.

Whenever confronted with the issue of having to perceive or judge another person, we should immediately stop for a moment and take a look within ourselves not subjectively but objectively. We must make note of the actual good or bad within ourselves. A crucial point to consider is that where we form a specific opinion about someone, discretion demands that we remain quiet lest we humiliate not only the person in question, but also ourselves. In all fairness, before we open our mouths to pass a callous comment about anyone, a few seconds of contemplation could help to avoid serious mistakes having long term implications.

The writer is a lawyer and author, and an Adjunct Faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)