Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Perception, our place in society.

Perception is key when it comes to establishing your presence in society, both yours of others, and how indeed you are perceived yourself by others.
For example, take figures of authority. If you walked into a Police station and every officer was standing dressed in Nike joggers, hoodies, and a nice pair of Air 180's, you would have difficulty taking them seriously. The same way you would not expect to be taken seriously if you turned up at a job interview for an office position, in shorts and a t-shirt.

So lets look at perception. How and why is it SO important to us, and when did it start getting used almost as a weapon?

The power of perception all starts with human instinct, a brief, judgemental opinion formed of someone within seconds of laying eyes on them. Stereotyping people until we have an opportunity to get to know more about them. See a pan of water on the cooker, we assume it will burn us, then carefully test it to find out its just been put on and is cold.

We do the same with people. Society pigeon holes people, teaching us that casually dressed people care carefree, well dressed people are professional and respectable, and depending what side of the fence you sit on this one, people in uniforms with authority, namely the police are either trustworthy and a safe refuge, or untrusted, and will abuse us.

When you walk down a street at night, and see a group walking towards you your subconsciousness kicks into overdrive. Scanning, looking for clues as to what part of society these people come from, do they pose a risk, should you take action. Cross over, turn around, or keep on walking to get a better idea before deciding. Depending on your experiences, you will be compelled by what you have learned from previous encounters. Those who have been victims of any sort of street crime are likely to cross away as soon as they make visual contact on the group.

Sadly, some groups in society have learned this, and perceive it as power, and a crazy form of respect. Having the ability to make people cross the road just because of the way you dress and behave. For example, the hoodie! Frowned upon by society, shrouding the wearers face from most angles. Hiding away their expression and making it nigh on impossible to get a read on them. Because of the media coverage, and the aggressive manner people who wear them are perceived behave, the average Joe on the streets will avoid contact with groups wearing hoodies. And if the situation necessitates them passing close by, all items of value will be hidden away, eye contact avoided, and pace increased.

To gangs perception has become key. Stamping their authority on neighbourhoods, using peoples perceptions of them against them. No longer to they need to actually do anything wrong, we just see them and fear them.

But for some this was not enough, and the fight for a positive perception within groups and gangs has now taken over. Infighting if you will.
Not content with being feared by society, the fight has now erupted from within. The knives and other weapons once used to instil fear on others outside the group, for fun or gain, have now turned inwards, and the fighting has begun.
This is not to say that all victims of knife crime are in a gang, far from it in fact. But the fighting from within has caused a lot of the members of the gangs to start carrying weapons.
Weapons which in turn, change a simple street altercation into a fatal or life changing incident.

I have never believed violence is the answer. Going from a road rage incident I was once caught up in, with the driver of the other vehicle feeling that having not been able to over take me for half a mile, warranted a fight (strange people), to a recent disagreement on the internet turning into threats and suggestions of "sorting this out face to face" Ironically the debate which caused the disagreement was on violence.

However, as the years have gone by, situations which were once finished with a cheeky sucker punch, and a black eye, have now turned into "I know, I have I knife, that will teach him". The cowards way, the easy way, or just the most idiotic and irresponsible decision and action a person can make. Ending a simple altercation with someone, in fact a whole group of peoples, lives being changed forever.

Having watched CCTV, and read witness accounts of some truly devastating assaults over recent years, it is abundantly clear that this knife carrying society is here, and is determined to stay for as long as it can.

So we go back to perception.....
In society we all make a decision, be it conscious or subconsciously , to make an impression on others. We don't see how we look for 99% of the day, so what we wear, how we walk, and how we behave is instead all a show. A show for others. Out for the night, impress the ladies, job interview, impress the potential boss, and so on. Clothing plays a key role, as it is a massive visual key for others to associate with.
Then there is how we walk and behave. Body language plays a huge part too. As we watch someone walking, we assess how much personal space of others they respect, body checking and barging is a sure sign that this person is bad news. Respectfully standing aside, being alert of your surroundings, paints a totally different picture.

Of course, all these reads we make on someone in the split second that it takes can all be terribly wrong. And we come back to stereotyping, the man in the hoodie knocking into people as he runs down the street, could in fact be a plain clothes police officer chasing that well dressed man you just passed, who you assumed was running for a bus.

I guess what I am trying to say here is two things, but they work against each other.

Perception IS key, for a fraction of a second. It tells us how to react, and what to expect from someone we perceive as friend or foe.
However perception is flawed, as society teaches us to pigeon hole people, and who to avoid, it also teaches others how easy it is to commit perception fraud. Making yourself to be something you are not is the easy part. Sadly backing up the threat your image paints is where it gets messy.
Proving a point, making a stand, and showing others that you deserve the respect you demand. Carrying a weapon, using violence, just for another step up the ladder.
Finding someone innocent to your behaviours. Unsuspecting and vulnerable, and using them to display how tough you are, is really just proving how weak you are.

Knife crime is nothing new, it will never disappear fully, but for now it is getting out of control. Maybe the media are over reporting it, over inflating the seriousness in our minds. Maybe it really is on the up and getting to a point of being uncontrollable, who knows.

So I will sum up this random ramble with this.
As much as you can fool someone with your image, make them perceive you as a dangerous threat, let me put this to you...

Fear is NOT respect.
Violence does NOT earn respect
Respect is earned, and earned from decent people, not low life thugs who you look up to in some strange way, because you in turn fear them. Break the cycle!

My parting question. How do YOU want to be perceived, and how do you thing people actually perceive you?
Confident, vulnerable, confused, confrontational......

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