I, being myself, said something a little silly today. My roommate’s girlfriend asked for some clarification about something I had said, saying that my statement was one that was prone to a common misconception. I retorted that I did not have misconceptions. I was being sarcastic, hyperbolic, and perhaps a little snide, but later, I was thinking about a challenge posed to me in the form of an (ironically enough, misconceived) obvious example of a misconception; I had noticed that my roommate’s food contained shrimp. I stared at the shrimp for a second before I said aloud “Oh, that’s a shrimp.” My roommate responded with “I thought you didn’t have misconceptions.”
Here’s the thing, that wasn’t a misconception. I hadn’t actually conceived of the shrimp as something other than a shrimp. My questioning was part of the process of my perception of the crustacean. To say “oh, that’s a shrimp” is not to exhibit a prior misconception of the thing that turned out to be a shrimp. It’s an exhibition of the result of understanding and correctly processing the sensory data that led me to conclude that the item I was staring at was a shrimp. I had perceived that the thing I was staring at was a shrimp. I had no prior conception that shrimps were things other than what they are, and I hadn’t formed misconceptions about what the thing on the plate was. I simply hadn’t given any thought to the sensory data that allowed me to identify that the thing which I later determined to be a shrimp even existed. This led me to think on things other than shrimp.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our perceptions of people who hold differing Opinions. I capitalize Opinions to emphasize that I’m writing here about things that shape the way we live our lives: our religions, our politics, and our ethnic backgrounds (among other things that I’ve surely forgotten to list). I strive to treat other people in the best way possible. I don’t mean that I always ascribe the best of intentions to their actions, but I do mean that I try not to assume that I know why people act in certain ways.
The tribalism that we so often see on Twitter, in politics, and scattered throughout our various forms of media exhibits itself in our everyday lives, at least it does in mine. I see people voicing uninformed or misinformed opinions about others whilst simultaneously casting those people as the “bad guys” who have the worst intentions. It seemed to me that those people had misconceived the intentions of others, but now I’m no so sure that’s it.
So what’s my point? Why did I start off talking about shrimp and end on a ramble about the biases that people hold? I’m not sure, but I think I may have noticed something today about the way that we perceive others. I’m not sure that many of the so-called misconceptions that we hold are those at all. I think that we often view others as maliciously holding on to misconceptions of those who they view as the other, while in reality, they haven’t properly conceived of the other person in the first place.
It seems that when people see others of opposing political affiliation, they tend to discount the worth of the words that person could share. They ascribe the worst intentions, and then they use the preconceived notions that fit the political label to describe the rest of the person. Before today, I would have said that the person judging the other had severe misconceptions, but I now think that the problem is one even more fundamental. Instead of dealing with misconceptions of shrimp, we can’t even see the shrimp for what it is. My roommate should have told me that I may not have had misconceptions, but I obviously have a problem with misperceptions. I think that our problem is that we have conceptions of labels, we perceive a person as falling under a label, and then fail to try to conceive of the ideas that the person himself holds.
So, yeah. That’s what I thought about tonight.