There’s a new series coming to TNT called Perception and I must admit my intrigue with the premise. I glean from the marketing that a local law agency relies on a schizophrenic to help them solve crimes. That his unique disability is acutually a hyper-ability to see things from outside himself.
We look at a our world only through our own eyes. We can’t help but color (whether inside or outside the lines) what we observe with the paints of our own background. How would we know, for instance, to use yellow if we’d never seen it in action?
This word means one thing to a sportsman, another to a suburban housewife, a third to a Desert Storm veteran, and still another to a marketing guru. And I’m not even broaching the criminal element.
There are countless words like that. How many definitions can you come up with for the following:
obedience, media, government, value, success, race
Your initial thoughts about the words are shaped by your background and even your best friend isn’t going to define them the same way you do. If single words can cause confusion, how much moreso the conflicting notions that arise where people have passionate interests.
Case in point: when my brother hit jr. high, he found an antique at a local garage sale. A shingle like you would see hanging outside a person’s place of business, only the board that hung down had the word whites on one side and the word coloreds on the other.
Now I grew up in a suburb of Dallas and I had no idea the true meaning of that sign. I thought it had come from a laundromat, differentiating the washers where you should use bleach and those where you should not. And I drew that brilliant deduction from the fact that I’d stained a pink jumpsuit with bleach not long before the sign appeared in my brother’s room. (If you’re confused about the sign – and I hope there are a few of you so I won’t feel so clueless – these used to pepper the city of Dallas, according to my mom, up until the mid-sixties, differentiating between bathrooms, payphones, water fountains, even areas of restaurants so that the identified “races” wouldn’t mingle.)
Some of you reading may have trouble believing that I didn’t understand the sign especially in my environment. Some of you might be shocked that such signs existed in a cultured city. Others never thought Dallas a cultured city to begin with. And finally, some of you might be offended that my bro brought home a sign like that in the first place.
Recognizing that every observer has to quantify observations based on the limits of experience brings people a long way to cooperation, understanding, mercy, and forgiveness. That acceptance doesn’t erase the differing perspectives, but it can begin to tear down the walls that assumptions, based on those perspectives, can build.
May that understanding become a huge sledge hammer in our culture.
Your turn: What are some words or phrases that trip you up? Things that provoke an emotion or memory contrary to the norm?