It's an interesting word and about as ambiguous as they come. If you've ever heard the old phrase about "rose colored glasses" then you've got the general idea. Our perceptions color our world and help form our personal biases.
Let's try an example.
Say you're sitting at a table at your favorite lunch spot when a rather large burly man walks through the door. He's dressed in biker gear, has a few tattoos and looks like he's been on the road for days. Other than his appearance he offers no clue to his intentions outside of the possible desire to have lunch.
What's the first thing that comes to your mind? For most it would probably be a little fear followed by a mental note to find a new lunch spot. In the end our opinion probably leans toward a less than favorable view of our hungry friend.
So what if I told you our burly biker guy was actually an esteemed Superior Court judge who happens to be a motorcycle enthusiast...
Your perceptions are affected by societal norms and anything that goes against them causes us alarm. Depending on how conservative or liberal your social views are will have a direct relationship to your world view.
The problem with perception is that it's based on faulty logic. We first apply whatever we accept as societal norms, then our own personal biases and with very little additional information render judgment. And that's where it gets dangerous.
Remember the Romney presidential campaign and all the rhetoric that swirled around about the "takers?" Into that group went anyone deemed unworthy due to their reliance on public assistance of any kind. The circumstance that landed you in that position was irrelevant, only the perception mattered. For the true believers it was black and white and anything in a gray area was considered black.
Create a label and you're on your way to influencing perception. Repeat the label enough and it gains power even if it contains no substance. So if a message could be crafted to sway public opinion against those branded with your new label you could disenfranchise an entire swath of the population. Especially useful in silencing groups that expose the flaws in your point of view.
Our lives are cluttered with irrelevant noise. Even the news isn't particularly informative anymore since it's become an entertainment medium. Entire nations may be plagued by hunger and disease. Civil rights curtailed by corporate influence and the efforts of many now benefit a privileged few.
Hey, who cares? None of that is as interesting as the latest celebrity gossip or news about an upcoming mobile device. Rampant consumerism and distilled information rule the day. Our perception of normal has been co-opted and corrupted with nonsense and it extends to more than just our consumer habits.
And there's the danger. It's easier to consume than to deliberate, especially with so many seemingly important demands for your attention. We allow someone else's version of reality to dictate our own without even realizing it.
So the next time you make a snap judgment take a moment to really consider where your opinion comes from. You may find a truly uncomfortable truth. One that could alter your perception.