HAVE you ever had an argument with a friend over an event and no matter how hard you tried to explain, they cannot see your point of view? Yes, it has happened to me. In fact, it has happened to me a couple of times and try as I may, I could not get them to see what I saw. That difference is in our perceptions. It has been said that we perceive reality differently. Perception -the act of perceiving by means of the senses – affects our very reality. Reality then becomes personal depending on ou perception. It is in that sense that we often speak of his or her reality.
Linguists have often said that language affects our perception of reality. The words we know and speak affect how we view the world. This might seem strange until you examine it critically. For instance, the Yoruba ‘Won’ as opposed to the English ‘he or she’ means that the Yoruba man or woman perceives the world from a respectful perspective. He or she addresses other people based on their age and status rather than their abilities. This perception affects their reality in the sense that such a person views the world on the basis of status and so a Yoruba man or woman may not be able to understand why a little girl or boy should not be at their beck and call. This view permeates the society and affects the decision making process and eventually their reality. Thus a Yoruba may never understand why a wife has to be heard in the family or even make some decisions independent of her husband because for him or her, the ‘won’ is to be observed. Here it could be said that the language has affected their perception of reality.
Another area where our perceptions affect our reality is the spiritual. Our religion is essentially part of the culture as religion tends to be a way of life. It affects how we do things, the decisions we make, the life we lead. It is a fundamental part of who we are and makes up our value system. In a lot of ways, it affects our reality. A person’s belief in a supernatural being, in the forces of nature will affect how he views the world. For example, have you ever met a person who thinks there are fights to be won in the spiritual world, every single decision they make will be influenced by that perception. One very common one in our part of the world is that of those who think that physical illness is a result of a spiritual battle and so instead of going to the hospital, they spend their time fasting and praying in the church, determined to win the spiritual battle. That perception colours their reality; it becomes their real. Unless their perception changes, it will be difficult to convince such a person of the practicality of the hospital as opposed to the church.
Furthermore, there is another area of our perception that I happen to love, the physical perception. Take a look around you, notice the objects around you. The ones you had no idea about while reading this; now focus on one object. Depending on how hard you focus, you might get to a point where your perception thoroughly changes, a slight movement in perception. That is the physical perception. We see what we choose to see. Until you focused on that object, you probably were not aware of its existence. You did not notice it and it had no effect on you. Take for instance, you are watching a movie, the character is listening to music and crying but at the background, a thief is approaching with a knife. Until she or he notices the intruder, their world is just right. That perception will affect whether he or she lives or not in that situation. Thus his or her physical perception affects their reality. Our perception of the physical world around us, our sight, smell, taste, touch affects our reality.
Another area of perception is the mental perception. Our mental processes affect the way we view the world. A depressed person sees black and white and that perception colours the way they view the world. They might begin to see a sad, distressing world as opposed to an upbeat, fun one. The fact that you’re tired, stressed or happy can affect your decisions, your ability to perceive the world. It is in this sense that we may speak of a realist, an optimist and a pessimist and how whichever one you fall with determines the way you view the world. Mentally, the way we process information, our ideas about the world, our values affects how we interact with the world. This interaction then is not free of biases and so we often find ourselves unable to reconcile with a way of thinking because of how deeply ingrained ours has become. While we are quick to point out how right we are, the other person is quick to point out how wrong we are. Yet, we might both be right, it just depends on what mental angle we perceive the situation from.
Basically, every aspect of our life is coloured by our perception. Whether mental, spiritual, physical or otherwise, it affects our reality. So when next you want to put something out as being absolutely certain, remember, it may not be absolutely certain, it might just be your perception of it. Try to change perceptions every once in a while; take a deep breath, take another look. Perhaps, your perception is colouring your reality.
- Wale-Olaitan is of the Faculty of Education, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.