Dear Neighbor: Kim Porter: Perception

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 11, 2024

By Kim Porter

Dear Neighbor,

Have you ever perceived something and it was totally erroneous? You observed a “happening,” figured it out, made a decision and it was wrong — really wrong. You had a feeling about someone and you were so off base it was embarrassing. You get a whiff from the oven, smelling a bit strong, fearing you must eat it so the cook isn’t hurt, only to find out it is incredible.

I find myself being less judgmental as I age. Thank goodness, it’s not the other way around. I have seen, heard or become aware of so many experiences that have not been correct that I try not go overboard. Interpreting something without critically thinking it through is detrimental to my understanding of life.

Examples might help. I go to the gym often. I like to use machines that others have just used, not changing the weight, to see if I can lift as much as they do. One day, I followed a 40-year-old, using every machine he did. When we both finished I said to him, “I am worn out, how about you?” He smiled, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I just warmed up, now I will go and work out.” My perception (mental impression) of how strong I might be was torn apart. He was just warming up — and I was finished.

As a post-secondary educator, I found myself asking other professors specific questions so that I could better meet student needs and engagement: do certain ones need assistance, do they have language barriers, etc. Every now and then, a prof would say, “I have athletes and they get in without proper academic credentials.” This perception and resulting judgment can be so erroneous. Jocks can be the most rewarding students in class. When I taught college in Miami, profs would say Haitians were so quiet, they had difficulty communicating and struggled with our culture. I would flip that coin to the other side, remind all of us that most spoke three languages, were taught not to disagree with their elders and that being quiet could be an asset to their learning.

A few years ago, at a gym, I finished working out on a machine; a bit tired, muscles aching, when a hand lightly touched my shoulder. “Are you finished?”, she barked. “Am I ever, and if you were my age, you too would be worn out.” I answered. I got up, she slid in, added 10 pounds to the weight and said “I am 83, what is your age?” This 81-year-old slowly moved away, making a pathetic perception: she was a woman, added weight to the machine and was older than me. My mental impression failed again.

The media might have you personally feeling poorly about many things, especially immigrants. Given the opportunity to meet some immigrants, you might just recognize they are no different than you — they want to live somewhere safe and raise their children in a place that allows growth.

If perception is the way I think, or have an impression of something, then one experience can change my view: either positively or negatively. If I am not open to new experiences, then I will probably steer away from change. I will look negatively at new possibilities.

My perception has to be less judgmental, more open, less exclusive, more inclusive, less subjective, more objective. My mental impression needs an “oil job.” It needs to run smoother, act less arrogantly, and be more positive.

“Dear Neighbor” authors are united in a belief that civility and passion can coexist. We believe curiosity and conversation make us a better community.