when ‘perceives’ becomes ‘believes’

When humans navigate a given dominant culture as a whole, and inevitably move within sub-groups of that culture or society, perceiving certain things in certain ways is expected. It could be argued perception is much more than something shaped by life experiences: it was, or is, an evolutionary necessity. If people did not perceive threats or friendliness during all evolutionary stages leading up to us, lives, food, general and group or individual sustainability, homes, and so on would be put at high risk. Perception viewed through an evolutionary frame may, unfortunately, lead to all sorts of societal ills because that frame may see perception as something that doesn’t cause harm when it goes unquestioned because of the science behind it.

The argument becomes moot in contemporary times. Not to say that science behind perception, both psychological, social, and evolutionary, is incorrect or oppressive in and of itself. Rather, the way we perceive things is something to be questioned critically on all accounts:

What do we think?

Why do we think that?

Does our perception differ greatly between concepts, or not at all?

Is that perception truly my own, or is it one developed due to societal prescriptions?

Why do we think X about Y, but not Z?

These are all questions that must be asked before assuming. For example, why do a good chunk of people perceive all gay men as feminine, or all bi- and pan-identified individuals as promiscuous? Perception is expected, and not always related to marginalization: I perceive almost all chocolate chip cookies to be pretty great even if I haven’t tasted every single chocolate chip cookie to deduce that. When perception is related to marginalization, it is at risk of becoming a solidified belief. With perception, psychological and social means of seeing, of reading, of interpreting things, differ from person to person. There is a malleability in perception. Presumably, there is an openness to learn or listen or understand. Once perception becomes belief, a lot of that necessary malleability and open-mindedness is solidified. (That is not to say that all people who believe something are unwilling to think critically and, if relevant, change that belief.) The risk, it seems, between “perceive” and “believe” is an open mind shutting a little bit more each time even just a sliver oppressive perception is solidified.

It is, I would argue, a much more Sisyphusian task to help a person with a solidified belief engage in critical thinking than it would be to engage a person with a given perception in critical thought dialogues. When an oppressive perception becomes an oppressive belief (I perceive) potential danger, in the subtlest forms, is more likely to be lurking around the corner.