We can Shape Perceptions

So much of what we do is shaped by what we perceive. Our perception is our reality. Most theories used rely on  perceptions – perceived threats, perceived risks, perceived benefits and most importantly by perceived consequences. We generally are only willing to take action if we perceived positive consequences are possible. Government, society, media, and leaders of organizations shape our perceptions.

As I tell my students, if people you work with are not interested in taking action to improve their lives or to work hard, then these people don’t have  clear perception of positive consequences is possible. As Abraham Maslow made clear, man is motivated to make progress and met needs are unmotivating. It is our job as health professionals to clarify the positive progress that is possible and to show them how to make and document progress.


The idea of progress and perception confusion was driven home to while reading Steven Pinker’s 2011 book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violences Has Declined“. Though I have not finished the book, it is long, the premise is to document how we are significantly less violent now than we have been. That premise is hard to accept with news that highlights violence.He works to rectify this misleading perception in the first chapter. To me what made his point best was when he provided an imaginary 1976 Commencement speech. I encourage you read this speech and reflect. If you are like me, it will help shape your perception:

1976 Commencement Speech

“Mr. Principal , members of the faculty, family, friends, and Class of 1976. Now is a time of great challenges. But is also a time of great opportunities. As you embark on you lives as educated men and women, I call on you to give something back to your community, to work for a brighter future, and to try to make the world a better place.

Now that we have that out of the way, I have something more interesting to say to you. I want to share my vision of what the world will be like at the time of your 35th reunion. The calendar will have rolled over into new millennium, bringing you a world that is beyond your imagination. I am not referring to the advance of technology, though it will have effects you can barely conceive. I am referring to the advance of peace and human security, which you will find even harder to conceive.

To be sure, the world of 2011 will still be a dangerous place. During the next 35 years there will be wards, as there are today, and there will be genocides, as there are today, some of them in places no one would have predicted. Nuclear weapons will still be a threat. Some of the violent regions of the world will continue to be violent. But superimposed on these constants will be unfathomable changes.

First and foremost, the nightmare that has darkened your lives since your early memories of cowering in fallout shelters, a nuclear doomsday in a 3rd world war, will come to an end. In a decade the Soviet Union will declare peace with the West, and the Cold War will be over without a shot being fired. China will also fall of the radar as a military threat, indeed it will become our major trading partner. During the next 35 years no nuclear weapon will be used against an enemy. In fact, there will be no war between major nations at all. The peace in Western Europe will continue indefinitely, and within five years the incessant warring in East Asia will give way to a long peace there as well

There is more good news, East Germany  will open its border, and joyful students will sledgehammer the Berlin Wall to smithereens. The Iron Curtain will vanish, the nations of Central and Eastern Europe will become liberal democracies free of Soviet domination. The Soviet Union will not only abandon totalitarian communism but will voluntarily go out of existence. The republics that Russia has occupied for decades and centuries will become independent states, many of them democratic. In most of the countries this will happen with not a drop of blood being spilled.

Fascism too will vanish from Europe, then from much of the rest of the world.. Portugal, Spain, and Greece will become liberal democracies. So will Taiwan, South Korea, and most of the South and Central America. The generalissimos, the colonels, the juntas, the banana republics and the annual military coups will depart  the stage in most of the developed world.

The Middle East also has surprises in store. You have just lived through the 5th war between Israel and Arab states in 25 years. These wars have killed 50,000 peopled recently threatened to drag the superpowers into a nuclear confrontation. But with in 3 years the president of Egypt will hug the prime minister of Israel in the Knesset, and they will sign a peace treaty that will last into the indefinite future. Jordan too will make a lasting peace with Israel. Syria will engage in sporadic peace talks with Israel, and the two countries will not go to war.

In South Africa, the apartheid regime  will be diminished, and the white minority will cede power to the black majority. This will happen with no civil war, not bloodbath, no violent recriminations against former oppressors.

Many of these developments will be the results of long and courageous struggles. But some of them will just happen, catching everyone by surprise. Perhaps some of you  will try to figure out how it all happened. I congratulate you  on your accomplishments and wish you success and satisfaction in the years ahead.”

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

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