Perception is the key to peace

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The topic of peace is one that is prevalent in todays society, no matter if you are a graduate student studying economics, a high school student sitting in bed musing about the workings of the world or an accomplished adult reading what said high school student is writing.

This summer, I was watching a movie called “That’s What I Am,” a coming-of-age story following a 12-year-old doing what all 12-year-olds do: going to school, facing bullying and learning who he is. There was one scene in particular that really stuck with me, in which a teacher wins a newspaper contest. The prompt for the contest was, “In twenty five words or less, explain how world peace may obtained.” His answer: “Human dignity + compassion = peace.”

I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about human nature in my own little teenage way, and I realized that although that was pretty clever and true to a point, I had to disagree. More accurately, after some thought, I realized that statement did not truly capture the essence of what was being said.

Perception. That is the answer.

Perception is the key to peace. Things such as human compassion, empathy, sympathy, awareness, acceptance — although they are all things that peace depends on — they are all just teeth on this key.

Perception is, most basically, sight that has been affected by other influences. Sight itself is almost purely a biological process, but perception relies on other influences — cultural norms, prior experiences, environments, and so on. All of these influences lead us to perceive things a certain way, and depending on how we perceive a certain thing at a certain time, every single thought we have concerning a certain situation changes. Everything that relies on conscious thought is altered: all the teeth on the perception key — compassion, empathy, acceptance, etc.

For example, when we see, for the sake of argument, an African American man, what we see is a human being just like ourselves with a darker complexion. What we perceive, however, depends on upbringing, prior experiences, stereotypes and even the weather and environment we are in. Very rarely in moments like these does one think logically and reasonably and ask, “Do I actually see a threat?” An interesting experiment found that when shown a picture of a white male and an African American male, subjects are more likely to perceive the African American as carrying a weapon.

This bias, this discrimination, is arguably a large part of the reason for today’s lack of peace. We do not see a problem until we perceive it, and at that point our perceptions cloud our sight. If we teach ourselves to perceive as we see, not see as we perceive, we can avoid so much illogical and completely unreasonable hatred and conflict. We can move past today’s version of judgment based on caste and rank. That is, judgment based on stereotypes, and move into something much more civil: judgment based on who the person proves himself or herself to be.

I’ll admit, this universal awareness of equality and individualism is completely unattainable, at least in this millennium, and I myself am not free of the occasional pre-determined opinion. However, these are the musings of my mind. And if there still are humans in the next millennium and we do not in fact destroy ourselves within the next few hundred years, perhaps my musings might see some sort of practical application.

This article appeared on Norridge-Harwood Heights News on Feb. 4: