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Published June 16. 2012 09:01AM

A writer named Jim Eason once wrote, "If you want to look young and thin, hang around with old, fat people."

I laughed when I read that line, but I also had an epiphany. We human beings have a bad habit of skewing our perceptions to fit our own needs.

When I go in the pool here in our 55-and-older community, I don't feel out of place with my one-piece bathing suit, gray hair, and plump figure. But, if I go to the ocean and walk the beach looking for shells, in my perception, I suffer in comparison to other beach walkers.

If we're invited to a dinner party and asked to contribute a dish, my initial reaction is always positive. I love cooking and enjoy creating dishes to share. But, my friend's response is always negative. She feels inadequate to the task, thinks she's a below-average cook, and hates presenting a dish to others. Her perception is that she can't compete with the "real" cooks.

Perception can be a funny thing. We look at the world through eyes that have been warped by our experiences. An English poet probably said it best - "All looks yellow to the jaundiced eye." When we have been taught through the years to see a certain way, we have a hard time seeing reality.

When I see a person with many tattoos and/or piercings, I cringe. My old-fashioned perception thinks negatively about those modern methods of body decoration. But, since some of the people I love have adopted those methods of self-expression, I've grown to accept them more. My perception has changed.

Some folks are rock-solid in their perceptions - and don't try to change their minds. I grudgingly admire those who are so sure they are right. But, in my heart of hearts, I feel that the world can't be that black and white. There are some lovely shades of gray.

In the current climate of acceptance for gay marriage, my perception is multi-sided. I do think that people who love each other (no matter what sexual persuasion) should be allowed to commit to each other and form a family. Marriage is the best way to do that. But, another part of me wonders how much our civilization loses as we continue to accept divergent theories and radical beliefs.

Our grandson leaves for Air Force basic training in a few weeks. We are proud of him for many reasons, but perhaps more so for his choice of entering the military. He will be at least the fourth generation of members of our family defending our nation.

Recently, I told a friend about our grandson's choice of the Air Force. She looked at me in horror and said, "Why would he want to join the war machine?" I was taken aback by her response. My answer, although slow in coming, was "I'll tell him you are grateful for his service." She gave a little smile and said, "Guess I've been watching too much liberal television." Her perception was definitely skewed.

If you look up the word "perception," you find the synonyms "awareness," "comprehension," "insight," and "intuition." To my mind, the easiest descriptive words for 'perception' are 'understanding based on experience.'

Much of our perception of the world is based on our past. We are a sum total of all that has come before in our lives. Sometimes those perceptions are right on target. Sometimes they are wrong and can debilitate us from having a happy life.

If you are always sure that your perceptions are right, perhaps you are that one-in-a-lifetime perfect person. Then again, maybe you're wrong.


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