Recently, Troy Smith has devoted his column to discussing how our brains perceive situations differently based on life experiences. He also showed different movies and television series that presented broken criminals as sympathetic characters we relate to. Last week, Troy discussed the apparent rise in unprovoked violence. He rightly concluded that the violence was not a matter of too many guns or insufficient gun control. Troy also mentioned that I had messaged him with a criticism that his argument about perception seemed one-sided. The problem with perception is also a component of the situation Troy was so frustrated with in last week’s column. We fail to perceive true evil and seek to explain or justify acts that cannot be explained or justified. Evil needs no justification and can only be understood or explained by abandoning morality and decency. Our perception of evil and our attitude toward it has changed. Just as darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of goodness and grace. Perception may influence our initial thoughts, but it is not always fact or reality.
Suppose you are told for your whole life that the boogeyman is out to get you. Every time something terrible happens to you, you will begin evaluating the situation, assuming that the boogeyman is probably responsible. Sometimes, the boogeyman might be responsible, but your presumption may blind you to the truth in other cases. People say, “Things are never really black and white, just shades of grey.” Usually, these people lack the character to make a definitive decision they will stand behind. As sympathetic as the characters in “Falling Down” and “Breaking Bad” might be, they both did evil and broke laws.
When an individual sees racism in a situation, sometimes racism exists. Sometimes it is just perception. When an individual sees no racism in a situation, sometimes it isn’t there. Sometimes it is just perception. The problem with looking through the lens of personal perception is that we might miss the reality of the situation. Troy suggested that we broaden our perceptions to understand that our “view is not the only completely true one.” There is only one truth and many perceptions. Unfortunately, too many people believe that perception is reality, facts be damned.
Before I am accused of having some “phobia,” let me state that I don’t care how a person chooses to live their own life. I only object when they demand everyone agree with their choices. The idea that perceiving someone as a female makes them a female is idiotic. Perception cannot change genetics. Surgeries and hormone therapies cannot change genetics. Genetics is a scientific fact. No broadening of perception can change that. Truth is truth. Sometimes racism is present, and sometimes it isn’t. The perception does not make it exist or not. We can determine the dress’s color by applying scientific data. Individuals will still perceive it differently according to their eyesight and brain function. Still, the actual dress color is real and knowable with proper investigation. Perception is not reality.
What Troy is suggesting is empathy, but empathy is not reality. Empathy tells us why someone believes or feels the way they do. It doesn’t tell us the truth of the situation. Empathy and perception can keep us from addressing real problems. For example, if I believe the coach isn’t playing me because the coach doesn’t like me, it might keep me from working on weaknesses in my gameplay that keep me on the bench. No amount of empathy or understanding can justify evil actions or cause evil to exist where it doesn’t. We don’t need empathy to recognize the difference between right, wrong, good, and evil. Empathy might temper the hands of justice, but it should never be used to ignore justice completely. You should be empathetic, but always seek and acknowledge the truth. You should always think for yourself.
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