I was once told that "perception is reality". Unsurprisingly, it didn't sit well with me. It was from an executive who tried to explain to me their definition of "team player". I think most of us who have been in the corporate world understand what that really means. Thinking about it now has made me wonder how we define reality and whose definition of reality it is to which we are subscribing? The Cambridge English Dictionary defines "reality" as, "the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them." I then looked up "perception" which is defined as "the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted." And herein lies the dilemma when one is trying to forge a path away from what is perceived of them to what is real, to & for them. It can come down to a battle not just for one's identity but also for one's future prospects in work and life.
This week in #Repost, there are articles that reflect that fight against perceptions which have had a profound impact on lives and careers. Halle Berry, for example, has spent much of her professional existence doing just that; from being seen as too pretty (yes, shockingly, that is actually a thing) and thus perceived as not being talented enough to take on tougher, meatier roles saying, “People always wanting to see my physical self first, and then some will argue, ‘That’s what got you in the door.’ But even if that got me in the door, I’ve had to fight that image of being stereotyped, fight to be seen as an artist.” In this interview with Variety, Berry talks about having to convince many, including herself, that she was good enough to direct her own film, which is being premiered at TIFF this year saying,“I’m more encouraged that as women, we are feeling confident enough to tell our stories. For so long, our experiences have been told narratively through the guise of men." Berry also reveals how even after winning an Academy Award, the perception of future success was far from the reality where the offers for great roles from big time directors never came.
For Emily Ratajkowski, there are many perceptions about her that are not real. The model and actress who is active on social media and shares photographs of herself, has had to live with being judged purely on her looks. And that her face and body, are free for others to photograph and abuse at will. Ratajkowski has written a powerful essay in The Cut about what happens when one no longer feel like their image is their own, how owning her own image isn't a guarantee, neither is owning the rights to her own body writing, "I’ve become more familiar with seeing myself through the paparazzi’s lenses than I am with looking at myself in the mirror. And I have learned that my image, my reflection, is not my own." The perception of Ratajkowski having deserved or asked for this kind of violation because she is body-confident has meant that her intelligence is disregarded as is her right to not being sexually abused saying, "Everyone had told me to shy away from being “sexy” in order to be taken seriously, and now an entire book containing hundreds of images of me, some of them the most compromising and sexual photos of me ever taken, was available for purchase. And from what was being said online, a lot of people believed the entire situation had been my doing. I, after all, had posed for the photos."
Perceptions can be deeply embedded and systemic on multiple levels. For Rahn Broady, the desire to introduce the healing power of nature to students meant delving into issues from a community's past. Broady chose to work in New Orleans within a school system that was open to helping young students see how nature could help them by teaching them to grow their own food, plant herbs that could heal, and recognise what they as young people could do if only given the opportunity. And while the programme is successful, it hasn't come without its challenges including from within the Black community itself which has had generations of feeling a sense of revulsion against working with nature after having been forced to do so as slaves. A reality from history that has had a deep impact on the perception they have of themselves. The Atlantic quotes Dr. Denise Shervington, founder of the Institute of Women and Ethnic studies who says, “nature is something that is far removed from the experience of (Black) families. It almost seems like a privilege.” Read about Broady's passion to fight perceptions in order to create a different reality for his students.
Sensitive issues like race in America are what Chris Rock would consider golden opportunities to distil into the simplest, yet most profound, terms the realities faced by man. And even though they make up part of his comedy routine, the truth behind the humour means the laughter is that of knowing and recognising that reality. What makes his stand up routines so good is that much of what he says goes right to the heart of perceptions, stabbing holes in a way of thinking that has controlled communities and torn people apart. As Rock rightly points out, perceptions of Black Americans by White America has led to a country in disarray. Even the election of a Black president wasn't about a turning point in history. It was about White America patting itself on its back for giving a Black candidate a chance, an opportunity, as Rock says, "Humanity isn’t progress — it’s only progress for the person that’s taking your humanity." Here is his interview with The New York Times.
There is an assumption that no one can tell a story of a people, a race, a country better than those who live it. There is a perception that someone from outside that group would never be able to understand their story completely. Chloé Zhao proves that theory wrong. The director, whose critically acclaimed films such as Nomadland (which recently premiered at TIFF) and the 2018 success The Rider, delves deeply and respectfully into American lives, stories told in a way that reach deep into our souls and psyche showing a way of life with empathy. For some film directors, like Zhao, as it is for some journalists, there is a desire to tell a story that isn't about perception but more about reality with the hopes that by tearing away at filters and fiction, what is left is truth. And through truth we find true connection. She says, “We tend to generalize nowadays, everything is so black and white when it’s very complicated. But once upon a time, this was a place [where] these people from different backgrounds tried to build a nation together.” That's from a wonderful Rolling Stone article from 2018 about how the Beijing born and raised director found her passion, and strength, for telling the American story.
Who we are, our earning potential, success in relationships, access to opportunities is all impacted by the perception that others have of us, just ask "influencers" in this age of social media. I am sure they would tell you that not only is maintaining that perception hard work, it is also unsustainable in the long term. It is only when we start to confidently defy those perceptions and define what is true about us do we then stop having to fight in futility for our place in the world. That only comes when we not only see ourselves how we want to be seen but actively live that life, actively search out opportunities, and have the courage to uphold boundaries that ensure that our reality is authentic, not filtered with perceptions of someone else's assumptions. And after all, if we perceive ourselves to be the person we want to be, then others will too. That's how we make perception a reality that works for us, not against us. That's how I am doing it anyway.
“All things are subject to interpretation.
Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” – Friedrich Nietzsche