Informed Perceptions

It’s frequently said: “Perception is all.”

Significant research indicates that Asians and Westerners think and perceive differently. University of Michigan scholar Richard Nisbett’s famous experiment showed pictures of a fish tank to American and Japanese. They were asked to describe what they saw. Interestingly, Americans most often described the largest and most prominent fish in the tank. Japanese made 60 percent more references to the context elements. They commented far more often on the water, rocks, bubbles and plants in the tank.

Context & Interdependence

Charles Blow’s recent (6 August)   New York Times editorial alerts us to context, relationships, paradox, and interdependence. He notes the “greatest casualties of the great recession will be a decade of lost children.” He includes troubling findings from The State of America’s Children produced by The Children’s Defense Fund. Their findings indicate:

  • Since 2000, four million more children live in poverty. The increase between 2008-9 is the largest single year increase ever recorded.
  • The number of homeless children in public schools increased 41 percent 2006-7 and 2008-9 school years.
  • The majority of children in all social groups and 79 percent or more of Black and Hispanic children in public schools cannot read or do math at grade level in 4th, 8th or 12th grades.
  • The annual cost of center-based child care for a 4-year old is more than the annual in-state tuition at a public four-year college in 33 states.

Focus Influences Perception

These demographics describe important symptoms of human distress. While child advocates may know this information – most others don’t. Yet, these demographics  have implications for all of us. They signal growing and new concerns for K-12 education, health care and other sectors. Blow’s editorial provides a critical service. He offers visibility to the invisible and vulnerable. Many people tend to focus on the “foreground:” our own children, neighbor or grand kids. He asks us to consider a larger picture.

Differences in perception vary by gender, age, culture, income and other factors. A perspective may be valid, but is it limited? Be sure to consider both the big fish and other elements of the fish tank. It may significantly influence plans or other factors related to effectiveness. Inclusion and cultural competence can expand our view and  results.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

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