There is a saying that perception is reality. The underlying premise for this saying is a belief that an individual’s understanding of the world around them (their reality) is derived from their own interpretation of life’s events based on what they “know” -what they have personally experienced or learned to be true. Sometimes, how a person interprets what they “know” is based on poor or faulty information and their perceptions of situations are wrong. The good thing about this particular system of belief is that a person’s perceptions, and therefore their reality, can evolve. The individual’s perception of the world will be constantly broadened as a result of the new information and experiences that life will present them with every minute of their life. An individual’s understanding of the world will be expanded because of this active involvement in their culture through what constitutes a series of life altering “cultural events”. Their reality will be forever changed through these new experiences and new opportunities. And this is good; it is as it should be.
A social worker in a local school was provided such an opportunity to alter his understanding of reality while he was interviewing a family that had just enrolled their children in school. During the course of the conversation he asked the family why they had chosen Big Rapids, what was it about the area that lead the family to move there. The social worker asked if they had a job in the area or if they had family in town? The family members looked at each other and told the social worker that they could use a job but that wasn’t the reason for moving to Big Rapids. They also did not believe that they had any family near by. The social worker was puzzled and asked if they were moving closer to friends or had heard how good the schools were or about the benefits of living in a college town. Again the answer was no. The family said that they did not know anyone in Big Rapids nor had they ever been to the city before. Were they going expand their opportunities by taking classes at Ferris State University? Again, the family said “no”. They did not know that Big Rapids was home to Ferris but said that that was cool because Ferris had a hockey team. By this time the social worker was rather confused and somewhat frustrated. In his experience, people move for a reason. He knew that all behavior –and moving to a strange town is certainly an extreme behavior – was done for a purpose and that the purpose makes sense to the person who chooses the behavior. What possible sense did this decision make? The social worker asked the family the one last question; “Then why DID you move to Big Rapids?” The father quickly told the social worker that the family liked the Wal-Mart. They often entertained themselves by taking car rides on the weekends to see what they could see. One of these family adventures ended up in Big Rapids. The family wanted to take a break and to stretch their legs so the father stopped at the Wal-Mart. They were very impressed by how clean the store was and how friendly the people in Wal-Mart were. The family spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the store talking with people and completely enjoying themselves. They were so moved by the experience that they decided to pack up all of their belongings and move to Big Rapids. They wanted to live in a town that had such a wonderful store filled with such friendly people.
Perception is reality; it is our unique understanding of the world around us based on what we have experienced –what we know. Cultural events offer opportunities to expand our perceptions, forever altering our reality. Visiting “the Wal-Mart” is not often been seen as a life changing “cultural event”. It was for this family. Their reality was forever changed, and so was the social workers.