*People say “perception is reality” as if it is an accepted fact even though it is the laziest and most destructive idiom in contemporary society.
I realized this while watching the end of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals on Friday and reflecting on how people view Lebron James had changed in the past few years. While I acknowledge that I live in the New York City metropolitan area so people here were a bit more upset than those in other places because we felt directly snubbed, four years ago the conversations people had about James was that he was talented but didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to win a championship. People said that James was joining Dwanye Wade’s team and that James could not be compared with the holy trinity of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan, because he was taking the easy way out. The perception of James was that he was not good enough and that became the reality.
In criticizing James for deciding to join the Miami Heat what most people were saying (outside of the cities that were options but didn’t get chosen – like New York) is that they didn’t like the idea of James being in control of his destiny. When the Lakers formed a team of all-stars including Johnson that was fine; when the Celtics maneuvered to acquire three Hall of Fame players and two borderline Hall of Famers including Bird that was alright; when the Bulls formed a team that had two of the top fifty players of all time as recognized by the NBA that was hunky-dory; when James, after giving the Cavalier franchise almost a decade to surround him with quality players, took matters into his own hands somehow this alters people’s perceptions about him.
All of a sudden James was perceived as less than worthy of a championship and that made people misstate the reality of his basketball ability. Four years later we know see the folly of allowing that perception to dictate the story that James wasn’t a good enough basketball player. Over the past three seasons we have seen him make the Miami Heat his team and win two championships and be a runner up in the other season.
This is a minor problem as it relates to bar arguments about sports. But it is a real problem as it relates to other areas in life. Because when you allow perception to become reality it is basically a way of avoiding doing the work of really finding out what is behind the first layer. And often that first layer is something that is crafted by a person or company for a specific reason.
Companies that spend lots of money on advertising do so to change the perception of their company and the products or services that the company offers. But all the ads in the world don’t change the facts. In the mid 2000s Enron bought the naming rights to the Houston Astro baseball stadium in order to seem like an all-American company, but in reality they were engaging in terrible business practices. More recently the financial crisis caused by the mortgage industry was a result of people accepting the perception that the derivative securities they were purchasing were solid when in fact they were based on high risk home loans. Allowing perception to become reality because you’re just too lazy to do your due diligence can be extremely dangerous.
And the funny thing is most people would not accept perception being reality in their personal lives. Meeting someone for a first date gives you an impression of that person. But most of us would not let that initial perception guide our thinking for very long. Bringing flowers to a woman on the first date might lead to a second date, but if a guy acts like a jerk during the second date or if the two people simply don’t have a lot in common, the reality that there isn’t a love connection will soon become apparent and the initial perception is rendered moot.
It’s basically the idea of doing one’s homework.
I prefer to operate by the idea that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. If you don’t want to read the entire book that’s okay but at least open it and read a few pages before drawing a conclusion.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.