On Perceptions Vs. Reality

It’s been… a little over three months since my last post.

*Cue self flagellation*

(Well actually, I had a post written up back in February that I ran out of steam on after about 500 words. I’ll polish it up and get it out eventually.)

Anyways, back to the original point: one of my topics of interest is the divide between individual perception and the reality of a situation. Here’s the spark that led me to this post: back when I announced I was quitting my job, one of my coworkers told me, “I’m surprised you’re leaving so soon. We were betting on which of your group (I started with a cohort of three other employees within¬† a period several months) would leave first, but we didn’t expect it to be you. It seemed like you liked working here.” Her response surprised and delighted me.

I couldn’t stand working at that job, and thought I did a pretty shitty job of keeping that under wraps. I had another coworker who I was on pretty friendly terms with, and the cornerstone of our friendship was commiserating over how much we hated the work environment. Whenever the topic of work came up during my recreational periods I would inevitably start ranting about how <strike>much I hated my job</strike> the position wasn’t a good cultural fit for me. Having said that, I did at least try not to show my misery on my sleeves at work, so being validated by an outside source was like music to my ears. But there was another reason, which is the topic of this post:

Her perception of the situation and the reality of my feelings could not have been more out of line. On the outside, I appeared happy and comfortable with my position on my team and in the workplace. In reality, I commuted to work every day dreading the moment I finally started work. I stayed up late on the weekends (I think on weekdays too pretty often) just so I feel like I’d prolonged the amount of time not at work. Who was this mystery man she’d visualized? I wish I could’ve met this self actualized version of me and assimilated the motherfucker, borg style. I would love to have job satisfaction, or at least not be miserable in my work environment. Maybe for my next job…?

One last point: another reason why I found my coworker’s comment interesting – it was an opportunity to pierce the veil. Normally, other peoples’ differing perceptions are obtuse to me; it’s natural to assume in communication that their perceptions are similar to my own unless it comes up clearly in discussion like in the previous example. It’s another form of introspection and exploration; I’ve learned about an area where my own perceptions and the reality of the situation are in direct contrast with another’s perceptions. It’s not simply that they’re wrong about reality – my perception must also have been tilted since that revelation surprised me so much. It becomes an opportunity for me to reevaluate my own perspective.

Here’s another non-hypothetical example: imagine if you had a mother who was party line democrat. Not that they necessarily supported everything the democrats did, but they always voted blue because the Democrats are the lesser of two evils by default in America. Not that the democratic party is good, per se: The current political system in America is pretty fucked up and draconian and set up such that you have one party that explicitly tells you they are working against your interests. The other party is mostly against your interests, but occasionally they’re like, “Eh, I guess you’re allowed a couple breadcrumbs. How generous of me.” Ideally, the system in America would’ve long moved past having a basic safety net for its citizens, but what the hell do I know. I’m just another random idiot on the internet. Also, where’s the investment in infrastructure? Why is everything still so car focused?¬† Why is our public transit such shit?

Okay, enough of the tangent – back to mom: she always votes party line even if she doesn’t agree 100% with the candidate, under the principle that getting some breadcrumbs is better than no breadcrumbs at all. You feel like you have a pretty good idea of her mindset and her political views. Then the bombshell drops: turns out she voted for Trump. Now again, I’m using this example to illustrate my point between perception and reality. The contrast here is interesting not just because of the divide, but because of how wrongly you’ve calibrated your own perception. This person is literally not who you think they are. Nothing about them has changed; the change comes from within. Now of course, people do change over time, but my point here isn’t that my mom suddenly changed her values – her choice for Trump was predicated on the same values she held previously. It’s just that Trump had a good populist campaign to target working class folk that worked better than I’d realized. Also, some of her prejudices that I’d know about prior made her a one issue voter.

But it’s important to note that people do change over time, and it can be such a gradual process that our own perceptions aren’t updated to align with the new reality. We only notice the big things like the Trump example above. But big things help with the small things, because they’re a reminder to reevaluate other previously held ideas. This kinda goes in line with the concept of mindfulness from meditation, where you try to cultivate a practice of seeing things as they are. That’s another good topic for la ong winded digression that I’ll have to save for next time.