Perceptions can be misleading, depending on what you want to see. Ronald Reagan was known to have repeated the Russian proverb, “trust but verify.”
One of my husband’s socks had been missing for a while; one lone sock waiting on top of the clothes dryer for its mate. It made me half-heartedly sad as if it were a dove or a cardinal, lost without their sidekick.
I looked behind the clothes washer, as on the rare occasion some item of clothing will end up in that Bermuda Triangle. Ah-hah, I was sure I had found it.
I got my grabber from the pantry closet and tried to grab it from its dark abyss. Unsuccessful, I brought a flashlight to the fight.
As it turns out, it wasn’t the dark, missing sock. It was a black hose pipe.
This was not the first, nor will it be the last, time I’ve mistaken one thing for another. My perceptions can be as inaccurate as the next guy’s.
I wanted to find that sock. So, given the possibility that I had, hope and simple longing, made me see the missing sock.
I’ve always enjoyed seeing animals on my hikes, even ordinary deer, snakes, rabbits and squirrels, and I used to set out “looking” for them. Many times, on these walks in or near the woods, I’ve seen animals from a distance; only, close-up to verify them as a leafy branch. Or what looked like a giant weasel turned out to be a resting squirrel.
After several of these perceptual mistakes, I made a pact with God to stop looking for animals and just see what I see. I utter an informal sort of prayer-declaration at the onset of each outing, “I’ll see what I’m supposed to see, today.”
My observations of flora and fauna have become more eventful since this altered expectation. I’m surprised more often than I used to be, and see as many animals as I always had.
As to social perceptions, I’m thinking of one of those inspirational quotes shared on Facebook. This one said in essence that everyone who sees us out in public, assigns to us a persona according to their seconds-long perception of us.
In other words, we can have thousands of personalities depending on the perception’s others have of us. Some of those perceptions will be crisp and spot-on and others will depict us, colored by what they want to see, expect to see, when they see us, or what their tinted glasses affords them.
We serve others better by not relying on our perceptions and concocting a story in our heads about them. There is a fifty-fifty chance we’re wrong. The best way, I’ve learned to gain perspective about someone, is to ask them. I can be blunt that way.
If we want to know something about someone, we should ask rather than guess; and rely on our ears rather than our inferences. I’m aware that most of us are from small rural communities and we’re used to the old adage, “If you don’t know what you’re doing, somebody else does.”
In our small towns, people think they know us. We trade stories about “my uncles best friend’s cousin,” and quite a few people know exactly who is being talked about. I guess this isn’t all that far-fetched from many of our ancestors who had the same names generation after generation. Somehow, they knew which William they were referring to.
Genealogy can be tricky because of this naming quirk, and small-town life can be fraught with perception errors because of what we think we know about people. The benefit of small-town “knowing” is that one is never left completely in the lurch. Someone is always around to lend a hand.
The thing I would like to see heartily embraced by rural folks, however, is open communication. Most of us don’t read minds. In order to act on our perceptions, with an appropriate response, we need to know what the other person is thinking, “straight from the horse’s mouth.”
This last quote is another of my potential misconceptions. It may have crossed my mind that the origins of the quote had something to do with the television show I grew up watching in the 50s-60s called, Mr. Ed, featuring a sarcastic, talking horse.
In reality, the saying comes from the idea behind having come directly from examining a horse’s teeth, to determine its age, and relaying that information to someone else. So, rather than relying on conjecture, perception, or inference, we should go the route of the direct inquiry or research before deciding about a person or a matter.
Please don’t make me guess!