Perception and Prejudice

Each person that reads or watches or experiences something, brings a lot of themselves into the process. How and where they were raised, their spiritual beliefs, education, the people they spend time with, the other books they read, movies they watch and things they study. All of these factors are mixed into to whatever an individual is currently ‘experiencing’ and colors it to their unique perception and prejudice.

So we can hope to come at this blog from a similar direction – here are some definitions:

 

Perception: a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression; intuitive understanding and insight

Selective Perception: Selectivity of information that is perceived. Process in which people tend to ignore information that conflicts with their values while accepting other information that agrees with their values.

Prejudice: preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience

 

When I write my fiction, I tend to go lean on details unless I need the reader to grasp something specific. For me, not having each thing spelled out for me (as a reader) allows me the fun of having my own view or perception of a scene. A field of wildflowers in a passage may give me a totally different image (coming from the Pacific Northwest) than someone reading the same passage that grew up in the mid-west or on the east coast or in Switzerland or New Zealand.

Take this bit from the book I’m currently working on:

            Jasmine felt as if she was being turned inside out then found herself swaying slightly in a well-appointed sitting or living room. It had a look and atmosphere of old-world grace and money, but she didn’t have time to study it. She turned quickly as the enemy placed her soul sister on a plush sofa.

 “There should be a blanket in the chest just there, why don’t you get one so we can cover her.” Nicholas watched this woman carefully if discretely. She was struggling – fighting a war within herself – and if she was who he suspected, he could only imagine how abhorrent this situation was for her.

            Jasmine flipped open the cedar chest and found a soft, light blanket. Cashmere? Quality, as everything seemed to be here, and stepped over to cover her friend. The temptation to just cover her face and kill this arrogant aristocrat was hard to resist, but she needed Sunny in her life almost like air or food. Since she had lost her brother, Sunny was the only thing that had kept her at least somewhat sane. She had to strike out somehow and since she had promised not to kill him – words were her only option.

 “Nice place, Vlad. Lots of color, very few cobwebs – I’m impressed.”

 

I have a very specific picture of this place in my head as the author. The furniture I picture, the colors, the fabrics, the trinkets or priceless pieces of art that may be present. I asked my partner what he pictured and it was similar but not identical to my thoughts. Not surprising since we have been mostly together for over 20 years and come from somewhat similar backgrounds growing up. But ask yourself what you pictured? How might your partner or best friend picture the same scene? None of the ‘visions’ is more right than any others, they are just different; colored and nuanced by each individuals myriad of experiences.

Prejudice, at least how I want to talk about it here, is a bit more complicated.

While where prejudice comes from holds true for all the same things as perception, it’s how it applies to reading a book or watching or movie or dealing with a different culture that I want to address. People tend to judge things, be prejudiced for or against them, based on their perceptions – but they often neglect to take into account the differences from where the thing is coming from.

 

Take the novel Outlander for example. People tend to judge/be prejudiced about the characters based on current time perceptions. You really can’t do that. To say something that was a cultural norm several hundred years ago was ‘wrong and/or out of character’ based on current ideas and perceptions robs the person experiencing the work of inherent lessons, insights or differences. While we as a modern society may not agree with something done in the 1700’s for a variety of reasons, you also can’t just dismiss them as wrong. Understand where that particular ‘norm’ came from and why. How was it important to THAT time and place? Embrace it for how it is different from current thinking and so expand your vision of things outside your own actual experiences.

This is true of almost any work set in times and places different from what we know and are comfortable with. While some readers may vehemently disagree with the scene in which Jamie thrashes Claire for her blatant disobedience and endangering of their party; others understood where/when it came from and, while they may have found it distasteful, didn’t let that one scene ruin the whole book for them. Some, not so willing to step outside their own perceptions and prejudices, put down the book at that point never to pick it up again.

Some people are very uncomfortable reading explicit sex scenes – this can be due to many factors. They can skip past such things or let it ruin the entire story. That is a choice. While I don’t judge people for their comfort levels, I take real issue with people that will go through library books and black out things THEY find offensive not giving others a chance to decide for themselves.

I guess what I hope to accomplish with this post is to get people to think a little bit. To, perhaps, listen to another’s viewpoint without judgment to maybe expand their own thinking and ideas. Even if it doesn’t change your mind, you’ve been exposed to other ideas and, hopefully, won’t berate another for their perceptions. You and they are coming to a specific experience from (possibly) vastly different directions and so your perceptions will not be the same.

I saw this during the recent upheaval with the political race and it is so appropriate.

perception1

Both people in this picture are right – they are also both wrong. It is a matter of perception.

My fervent wish with future posts is that people will keep this in mind while reading what I write. I come from my own unique place and so my ‘view’ will be different from anyone reading my thoughts. It may be only slightly different or a huge swing towards one side or another. It doesn’t make me right and anyone else wrong – it’s just a different perspective. My hope is that my own ideas and perspective might allow someone else to see the same scene or book or character in a slightly different way and so, expand that experience for them with a different facet to and already precious ‘gem’.

It is also my wish that – especially here – discussions are conducted in a respectful manner to expand each person’s experience rather than dismiss their perceptions as irrelevant.

Cheers!

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Perception and Prejudice

  1. bwismer5 says:

    Absolutely spot on! Thank you for this.

  2. Hi Beth! Thanks for your post! Your example of Jamie thrashing Claire reminded me that though we do look at that scene and the 1700s from our modern eyes, it also goes through the lens of 1990 or whenever the book came out. Diana’s very good at making readers sit and be a little uncomfortable (unless they’re skipping pages…) but her work fosters interesting discussion such as your post.

    • rynawolfe says:

      Yes, one of my biggest frustrations is people judging the actions and characters by today’s standards. Not saying they were ‘right’ with things back then, but it’s where and when and who they were. I think this is one of the biggest issues when it comes to people looking at Frank and will be the focus of my next blog.

      • Yay! I love Frankie Frank! It seems like some people don’t like him simply for being stigmatized as “the first husband”. I haven’t read Voyager yet but it seems some don’t like him because of what he says/does to Claire. Also, he’s “not Jamie” and therefore not likable. Looking forward to your post on that!

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