We all walk past people on a daily basis. Who we glance at and who we actually see are not always the same thing. Sometimes, we may notice their body language but do we really notice the language we are giving to them? This thought got me to thinking of the Thomas Theorem. W.I. Thomas stated that “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” My interpretation of this is a statement I make very often that “Perception far outweighs intention.” We may have the greatest of intentions but sometimes we can offend people without even knowing it because some action on our part showed a different intent. We can speak all day of how this is the problem of those perceiving us, however, it just makes more honest the problems in our society to me in regards to issues like race relations, gender discrimination, ageism, etc. We can use the neighborhood I work in for example, Parma, Ohio. Sadly, Parma has had a reputation for being an extremely racist community. I have even heard many people say they won’t come to Parma because they know they will get pulled over for a ‘DWB’ driving while black. I have had customers be very stand offish and finally admitted to me it was because they didn’t know what to expect from my establishment as this isn’t “Their neighborhood” and weren’t sure if we were gonna be “Like some of these folks around here.” It actually hurt my feelings so much so that I felt almost guilty for being white. Now everyone feels people out but do we even take the time if we see them as a threat from the beginning? Do we even give them a chance? More importantly, do they feel they are going to be mistreated from the beginning and does that put them on the defensive right away? I don’t have all the answers. I did try a bit of an experiment on the way to class today. I watched my body language just to see how people would react. I noticed one thing for certain. Manners are huge across all ethnicities, genders, etc. The second thing that I noticed is that smiles are contagious. Everyone I smiled at, smiled back. Some even said “Hello!” It seems that when you acknowledge people they really feel more at ease with you. Big surprise, right? It seems to me that if you afford people their dignity, it can change a whole lot of things. Quite honestly, I pass people all the time and because I have a hundred things running through my mind I don’t always pay attention to much beyond those thoughts as I hurriedly walk. However, after thinking on the Thomas Theorem, it made me wonder how my hurried walk and busy mind were perceived by others. I will continue with this experiment for the next few days. I am just curious to see where it will get me. Maybe something so simple can break down huge walls in the way of human relations even if it is just one person at a time. Better to start somewhere than to just hope it goes away.
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