Speaking with some friends Thursday morning, we got into an interesting discussion about perception.
We talked about how perception changes with time, experience, age and faith. How difficult or outright impossible it is to change someone’s perception with just words.
Perception is one of my favorite topics.
Covering politics for 35 years has taught me that perception and reality mirror one another. In fact, I tell candidates that perception is 99% of reality and that extra 1% doesn’t count.
Facts mean very little. If enough people believe the blue sky is purple, guess what? The sky is purple.
I have known so many political candidates over the years who are stunned to lose because they considered themselves so much more qualified than their opponents. I tell them this is a job interview where a resume only provides half the story.
Voters, man, gotta love ‘em. They never get it wrong. They have a strong feeling for or against someone based on a perception of what kind of commissioner, for example, that candidate will be.
I have no qualms about perceptions and behaving accordingly. Some thoughts:
— I mentioned a while back that my first year at Just Wright Citrus taught me a valuable lesson about taking campaign ads. It’s just not a good idea. If I had a staff of reporters or bloggers who did most of the writing, that would be one thing. But when it’s just me — I can see how that looks taking ads from candidates while at the same time writing about campaigns.
I’m not one to make decisions based on criticism. Not everyone is going to like what we do here and that’s OK.
But when the issue is one of perception, I need to put my ego aside and take a close look at it. I can’t call out politicians for doing or saying things that don’t look good if I’m behaving the same way.
So from a perception standpoint, I’m on guard.
— Perception makes us lazy. There’s no other way to put it. We’d rather believe nonsense than investigate it ourselves.
The whole library-display thing reeks of perception. I have no doubt that people who want to upend the library have hundreds, perhaps thousands of signatures on a petition. But what are those signees being told?
I’ll sign a petition to keep libraries safe for children, that we shouldn’t allow Drag Queen Story Hour, that library displays shouldn’t hook kids into harmful activities. I mean…who wouldn’t sign that petition?
Problem is, none of that stuff is happening in the library. The petition provides the perception of wrongdoing, when in fact there is none. Rather than actually go into the library, meet with the director and staff, see what’s being offered, and THEN decide whether the petition makes sense, we simply go to our emotions and that’s how perception becomes reality.
As decision-makers, county commissioners are frustrated with this approach. They want to vote based on fact not emotion but their constituents don’t see it that way. Commissioners need to balance fact and perception because both are political realities.
I’m sure the three commissioners who voted for the Meadowcrest apartments did so based on the facts in front of them. And I’m equally sure not a single opponent agrees with that vote.
— The worst perception is that all politicians are crooks, out to line their own pockets, will run over their grandma for a campaign donation and are nothing but big spenders with no accountability to citizens.
While attending a campaign event last summer, a guy I know walked up to me and whispered, “If you really want to find dirt under the rocks, I can help.”
I looked at him. “Get away from me,” I said.
This gentleman is a likely county commission candidate next year. We should expect a steady dose of mud-slinging from his camp, all designed to create a perception that his opponent is a do-nothing or worse.
Truth is, it is rare to find a real hiccup in a politician’s past or behavior. This “they’re all crooks” thing is fiction. (Some, admittedly, are crooks, by the way. None currently with a Citrus County address.)
Former Chronicle Publisher Gerry Mulligan had a belief he passed to his government reporters: Trust but verify. Makes sense. Shouldn’t our perception of politicians and bureaucrats be one of honesty until they give us a reason to conclude otherwise?
There is so much good in our community. That’s fact, not perception.
Have an awesome weekend, friends.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.