Perception Is Reality

Perception is everything.


Sometimes it is said that a messenger is the message. I want to spend some time in this post unpacking what this idea means.

I want to do so by telling a story:

Perception on the Block

My wife and I were on a walk in our neighborhood recently. The intention behind this walk was to get to know some of our neighbors in an effort to share the love of Jesus with them in some capacity. So we prayed before we went on our walk and we asked God to bring people across our path that we could positively impact.

There was a group of young men that were hanging out across the street. So we went up to them and introduced ourselves. While we were doing this I noticed that there were two young men behind them who appeared to be in the middle of some kind of business transaction, which meant I wanted nothing to do with that conversation.

As we were about to continue our walk, one of the young men who was doing business said, “There go the police.”

This interaction reminded my wife and I of how we are perceived in our neighborhood. And that perception is generally that we are affiliated with the police or at least that we don’t really belong in the neighborhood. My perception of this perception of us is that it’s because we are white and we live in a predominantly African-American and Latino community.

Whatever the case, this perception is reality to those who perceive us. And this is a perception that we must overcome over time.

So as we think about how to be a tangible blessing in our neighborhood, how do we deal with this perception and others like it?

Here’s what I did in the story above: I simply turned around and approached the two young men who said that we were the police. I told them that we weren’t the police and that we lived across the street.

I’m not sure what they thought of this interaction but I felt it necessary to confront this issue head-on. The main reason why is because I understand that this perception of us being the police could really get in the way of us interacting with the people on our block in meaningful ways moving forward.

But some of the perceptions of followers of Jesus are not as obvious as the ones in our neighborhood.

Sometimes perceptions of followers of Jesus are more subtle or or more general, such as that Christians are judgmental, too political, sticks in the mud, etc. (as revealed in the book unChristian by David Kinnnaman).  And the reality is that it’s only through time and trust that perceptions such as these can be countered in healthy ways.

And while sometimes we may feel that the perception of us by those who do not yet follow Jesus is unfair, the responsibility is not on the perceiver but on the one being perceived. In other words, it’s our job as the messengers to be sure that the message is coming across clearly despite potential perception issues.

So here’s the question: how do we combat perceptions that might prevent us from being the tangible blessings that we are to be where we work, live, and play? Let me know what you think in the comments below!