I have always hated the phrase “perception is reality.” Similar to “the customer is always right,” it is too flattering, and too easily turns into an excuse to take the path of least resistance when mishandled.
Yes, to a certain extent, we can cultivate and shape perception. And we have a responsibility to be clear in communicating in all the ways we possibly can the truth. So if we have been careless about giving the wrong impression, a reminder of the need to rectify that is appropriate.
But what worries me is that we all are too content with our perceptions – or moreover feelings – going unchallenged. We are too addicted to being entertained, and quickly. And when all of this is combined with believing that most people are inherently good, that truth is subjective and ultimately unknowable, what we get in the end is a recipe for everyone affirming everyone else’s unreality until the jig is up and we destroy ourselves.
What would be nearer the truth and healthier would be to say that our initial impressions of a person, place, or thing certainly inform how we perceive additional information as it comes in. But also, we need to grant that a lot of factors can contribute to a poor first impression.
This is to say nothing of confirmation bias and groupthink, or the tendency of some people to claim their perception is such and such as a way of masking their real agenda and motives.
What Did Jesus Do?
Considering all these things, we as Christians do well to look to the example of Jesus. How much responsibility did Jesus take for the perceptions – or perceived perceptions, if you want to get even deeper – of the teachers of the Law?
He confronted them, and warned the crowds about them who came out to hear him teach and to see him heal and forgive. Jesus said they had eyes but did not see, and had ears but did not hear, and that they heard and saw without understanding, all the while claiming they understood.
Whether anyone approached Jesus and told him “the perception is” in so many words, Christ did handle that same tendency in the more wishy-washy among us to placate when we should contradict.
Sometimes similarly that is what we too must do if we are to fear and obey God rather than men.
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