Perception: The Six-Nine Dilemma

a long read

“It’s only impossible from where you are right now, take the first step and you’ll see!”

Six and Nine. The two numbers that when put together infamously never fail to pull muffled chuckles from a crowd of typical teenagers. I am going to use this cheap joke as a light introduction into a concept that is key to the human condition, here is a fun little bit showcasing our two numbers and today’s topic.

In some place not too far away, two people on their way to work meet each other walking on opposite sides of a road. In the space between them is a large printed “69”, presumably labelling the parking spot next to it. Both breaking their strides, they pause to take a closer look at the coincidence they have happened upon. Person 1 points to the number and childishly yells out sixty-nine! Person 2, buying this cheap joke, poorly attempts to muffle his chuckle. But suddenly his expression changes as he points to his first number emphasizing each number as he says 6 – 9. Then Person 1, abandons the joke proclaiming his first number to be the 6. Appalled, Person 2 mocks Person 1’s eyesight then states his first number to clearly be the 6. The belief of what they know to be true through what they see led to much tension between them. This continued on for some time until they noticed they were late for work and then hurried off along their respective sides of the street. ~ La fin ~

All jokes aside, depending on your approach and position to any situation you encounter, your 6 may be someone else’s 9. Your frustration can be seen by someone else as childish, or your good fortune as bad luck. This seemingly trivial fact is not simple at all, but when not accounted for it is the root of much pain and frustration because the truth is, nobody sees reality the same way you do.

Asking the Question

Today the focus is on the why. Why does this happen? Why are our views of the world so different?  Well this isn’t a trick question, I think it is something we can all intuitively answer. It is because we are all inherently different. At birth we have a lot more in common but each second alive and awake is a new experience gained that builds up our perceptions.

Take this simple analogy, when I was in grade 4 I had a green transparent ruler, and for reasons only a child could conjure, I found amusement in putting the ruler up to my eyes and using it as a visor, tinting everything I saw green. My friend sitting next to me would follow suite with his red ruler as we laugh about it. Did we see the same thing? Of course not! Though shapes remained the same, the colors we saw were very different. In this case, the rulers represent our perceptions as the lens through which we see the world. The point I want you to take away is that this tinted picture is what we base our actions on.

The Cultural Factor

A big part of our experiences growing up include the culture and traditions we are a part of. If you grow up in a culture that puts certain achievements on a pedestal, then it follows that you automatically give value to those achievements. Notice the word automatically because it introduces another aspect to the mix; bias. In every situation we all bring these biases to the table when interacting with other people.

Culture and tradition can be recognized by the large events, gatherings or celebrations, but the true definition is set in the small everyday choices it promotes or prohibits. This can include what clothes to wear, how to refer to your boss, if alcoholic beverages are the norm and even whether or not to tip at a restaurant. These small acts happen over and over again and it’s repetitive nature acts as a powerful tool in shaping our perceptions subconsciously.

A big cultural subject is time. What is seen as a perpetually late friend can just as easily be seen as normal or even respectful. More extreme examples of time perception happen in large gatherings such as weddings, where an entire side of the family may show up late to the ceremony because that is normal to them. These situations breed tension because of the expectations built from one’s perception and the failure of these expectations to be met.

Them and Me

On an individual level, there is the phrase “psyching yourself out” where you set yourself up for failure because of conclusions you drew to early. Someone who never considers university an option is probably not going to go. Likewise, someone in university who focuses on negative course reviews before a course even begins will either not take the course or end up underperforming, because after all, everyone says it’s a hard course.

Perception affects relationships as well. In the absence of proper communication, we tend to fill that void with wild thoughts which ultimately create our own living nightmares. Do this quick perception exercise, picture someone you have had a falling out with, whether it be a friend, parent or past partner. Now, taking your time, ask yourself the following three questions:

  • If someone were to ask each of you separately for the reason you stepped out of each other’s lives, would you both give the same answer?
  • If both your reasons do not match, then is the real reason a misunderstanding gone too far and not what you actually thought it was?
  • If misunderstanding (a.k.a perception) was the real reason, would you move to rekindle that relationship?

These questions force you to really think about things from outside yourself and analyze any impact your perception may have had on the issue. It was an eye opener for me and I hope you gain something from this exercise.

In Ending…

To perceive is to be human, this is just a remix of the Descartes “I think therefore I am”. Perception skews the objective world before us and this is not a bad or good thing, it is simply human. In fact, it is very helpful in certain contexts. But like most things, living life unaware of it will likely leave you confused and frustrated, which is why I see value in talking about something we all already know a bit about. Also, this is a topic I’ve been long wanting to write about for a while now so expect more entries on the topic to come, for there is a lot to talk about!

Thanks for reading! Leave a comment with your thoughts, I want to know what you think of the power of perception.


P.S. I have recently hit the 100 follower milestone and I just wanted to mark this moment and recongize all those who regulary tune in, thank you! Cheers to the next chapter 🙂

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