I love perceptions, almost as much as I love words. Being a people watcher and a student of human behavior, I find it interesting how people react in certain situations and/or their instant perceptions to other people or unfamiliar circumstances. Admittedly, some of my perceptions about other people’s misconceptions might be a tad unfair, but… that makes it all the more interesting, right?
For example. You drive into a small town that has one stop light, a corner drug store, a gas station that was obviously built in the 1920’s (and had its last update sometime during the 1970’s oil embargo), and a lone diner sitting prominently on the corner where you know that’s the only place for the next twenty miles or so to get anything decent to eat, you’re going to think (oh, come on, you can say it) – backwater, redneck, hole in the wall. And before even getting out of your car you’re wondering about the type of people who live there and just how fast you can get your food, gas up and head out before you have to really deal with them. No? Really? That’s not your first response? Or is it that you’ve never driven off the highway long enough to come across such a place? If you haven’t, why not? Do you really think that only metropolis’ have the corner market for well rounded, intelligent beings? Oh right… banjos. Fine, I’ll leave you with that disturbing imagery while I move on.
Now, you’re in the store on the first day of the month and you see several different people with over flowing carts full of food. Is your first reaction, “Wow, they must be getting ready for one heck of a party!” or is it, “Damn, there’s my money right there. I work my ass off and I don’t eat that good!”? Let’s be honest – how many of us will look at either the person’s skin color or weight before we decide on which reaction we choose? No, it’s not a nice thought, but isn’t that part of the perception we are brought up to believe? The truth is, not every black person is on welfare, and not every obese person is on food stamps.
You’re driving down the outskirts of downtown and get behind a white Lexus with gold trim, and inside are two very large individuals of color who are dripping with gold chains, and you instantly get the impression of drug dealer. Not wanting to get mixed up in anything, you pull around and as you enter the intersection you get t-boned by a speeding car running a red light. Which are you more surprised about… the fact that some out of town businessman just hit you hard enough to send your car careening through the intersection, onto the sidewalk, over 5 parking meters, coming to a stop only after hitting a sign post less than 3 feet away from a telephone pole? Or the fact those supposed drug dealers help pull you out the window of your broken car, all the while praising God and Jesus that you weren’t hurt more and that the baby was at the sitter’s instead of in the car?
I’ve been on both sides of the welfare line. I’ll admit to being more comfortable in a torn pair of blue jeans and ripped up sneakers at a small town parade, than I have at family get togethers. There are parts of the town I live in that I will not go to after dark, and one of them is mine (I will not go outside if I don’t have to). I’ve worked as a waitress, as well as a drafter in both the aerospace and oil industries. I’m a vo-tech graduate and a college drop out. I’ve seen people who looked like they’d stab you for a nickel, do amazingly wonderful things. I’ve also seen people that others, and the community, look up to do horribly awful things. Our perceptions run only skin deep and it’s the reason why we, as a whole, refuse to learn from each other.
Before you cross the street to avoid the kid with his body full of tattoos, or look down at the mom with kids who have different dad’s, take a minute to see the person underneath – I’m willing to bet that you’ll be surprised by what you find… and what you learn about yourself at the same time.