A perception is the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted. It is how we interpret and accept the things that are going on around us. It is our judgement based on whatever signals our five senses receive, our interpretation of what we see, hear, feel, taste or smell.
Perceptions can serve us or work against us and this makes an understanding of perceptions very important for any leader. Your perception whether right or wrong becomes your reality and the belief system that will ultimately form the bedrock of your decision making process.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, the world watched in horror as terrorists took over a number of planes and flew them into buildings in the US, killing thousands of people in the process. What was obvious was the immediate effect. Lives were lost and property destroyed. What was not so obvious was the long-term effect. Once the news came out that the terrorists were people of Arab descent, it planted a perception in the minds of many people. Anti-Arab sentiment otherwise known as islamophobia swept across the West.
Perceptions are so strong that once they have taken root, even if there is evidence contrary to the perceptions, the evidence is immediately discarded on the basis of the perception. According to Gallup, since 9/11, the Muslim-American community has helped security and law enforcement officials prevent a significant number of terrorist plots threatening the US. Besides, tips from the Muslim-American community are the largest single source of initial information to authorities about these plots.
For generations to come, 2020 will be spoken about. It was the year of the great pandemic that killed thousands of people, left millions without jobs and destroyed many homes and relationships. What is your interpretation of these events? Your 2020 perceptions if negative can affect not only your life going forward but generations after you.
Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter was a star. He gained the nickname hurricane because as a boxer he was lightning fast and was able to knock down his opponents in minutes. He was a top contender for the World Middleweight Crown. However, on June 17, 1966 all that came to an abrupt end. He was accused of a triple homicide and locked up even with no evidence linking him. He was later released but what is important is how he handled the whole process. He refused to give up the last level of power that he had — his attitude and beliefs, which he said no one could ever take from him even if they took his physical freedom.
Last year took away physical freedom, it took away livelihoods, it took away dignity as many had to face auctioneers and creditors, it took away loved ones and much more. The one thing that you can refuse to let 2020 take away is your attitude, your beliefs and your choices. We are not products of the events that happen to us. We are products of our interpretations of those events. Negative interpretations will birth perceptions which can follow us for life and then move on to our children. We must refuse to give 2020 the power of shaping our future generations. 2020 was the year that took away the old to birth the new. Happy New Year!
Wale Akinyemi is the convenor of the Street University (www.thestreetuniversity.com) and chief transformation officer of PowerTalks. [email protected]