Last night, I met with a friend and went for a regular 'teh tarik' at a place we used to visit during our post-school days. The crowd was bigger since there was a football match at the stadium nearby. Our history back-dated more than 10 years ago, and surprisingly we are still closely communicating to each other despite of growing up and changed status respectively. Upon finding the right seats, we both ordered and spent more than 4 hours drinking and chatting. We had to stop the conversation since the time had passed mid-night. Could not even finish the chatting, both of us left in great amusement. After all these years, we could still sit and find the right topics and ideas to freely chat for hours. There has been times where 2 of us could just sit, talk and laugh for hours then we shift to a different location (since the previous kedai kopi were closing) and continue talking and laughing for another few hours. Although he is not a friend who I see everyday, but our casual meet-up once a month (the most would be twice a month) certainly has touched far too many issues if I could compare to those I daily speak with.
Interestingly last night, there were 2 issues which I found too important to be ignored. Both issues made my brain to start its engine and moving. Both issues are highly related to the concept of 'perception'. Our main conversation topic was focusing more on bouncing ideas for the upcoming community program which we intend to propose in this these few months.
Coming back to the 'perception' issues, I was again puzzled by being 'almost' centre of attention at the 'kedai kopi'. Many who we accidently met at the place were friends of both my friend and I for many years. My friend and these people were raised and living in the same neighbourhood, while I had been considered as an outsider since my house was located on the opposite site of the area. However, all of us went to the same school, so technically we are no strangers to each other. Surprisingly, both of us were being asked if we were dating or seeing each other seriously. Though it may seem as a friendly curious question, I found it very disturbing, knowing that everyone there are aware than my friend is a married man. Of course that question was answered as it was supposed to be answered. Both of us were laughing answering them in question mode, "Just having a friendly 'teh tarik', anything wrong?" Even after sitting down and enjoying our friendly discussion, I noticed that eyes were constantly staring at us.
Why am I too concern over this kind of situation? The idea of misconception often leads people into coming to a wrong conclusion, hence inducing wrong perception over certain situation or people. In this case, our own friends had developed wrong perception over my friendship with my 'guy' friend because they saw us together. If we were strangers to these people then I have no reason to be annoyed. The fact is both him and I are famously known as very good friends since we were young until now, yet our closeness is apparently perceived as a reason to disapprove that fact. I wish to highlight this issue for further exploration of thoughts. If I were to be seen going out with a lady friend, there would not be an issue at all. I believe everyone else would agree to that statement, wouldn't you? This particular event however has brought in three extreme conditions, (1) 2 individuals, different in gender, are seen together, (2) the man is a young married man, commonly known to be high in demand due to status, and (3) the lady is the very few single-in-status female among the crowd, obviously in the partner search hunt. Combine these three extreme conditions, it is so easy to conclude that both male and female are seeing each other.
I guess I should have not come to such quick conclusion since this kind of situation also happens in other parts of the world. Yet, I still could not let myself off-guard since in this culture, misled understanding would certainly create more danger than others might think of. I love all my friends equally hence treating them the same irregardless of gender, race, and status. As a person who holds strong opinion on becoming a universalist, I strongly believe that there is no such thing as cultural limitation. I am no Atheist. So, my words and acts are still bounded within the paramater of the faith I held strongly to guide my live.
I am well known to be a result of intelectual excellence among the circle of acquaintances and friends (as well as families); in which has allowed me to position myself in a unique rank in the society hierarchy. Those who are well aware of this culture and history will agree that those who get great grades in school and similarly those who are successfully banked the most money are automatically labelled as the elites in this social sturcture. Being perceived and respected to be in this group will also be known to have certain complimentary personality attributes. Historically, the elites are known to have come from an extraordinary family or upbringing, where all social and cultural normalities are highly conformed and practiced. In simple illustration in this modern situation, an individual who is a top-student at school would definitely comes from a well-groomed family (or up-bringing) giving her an entitlement of the perfect qualities in personality needed and required by the culture and social structure.
An extreme contrary condition accepts a proposition of anyone who has not achieved significantly in academic or financially falls in a different social rank. Common knowledge would allow such person to be perceived as an individual who do not have the perfect set of personality quality required and needed to the said culture. He/she would be an extreme case, where personal attributres are not beautiful and too often, this condition will lead to the cause of social mockery. Due to the perception handicap, the general would come to another easy conclusion associating these people with unacceptable social events or conditions. It seems too unfair and severe, but the reality fits even in this modern world.
If I have illustrated both extreme conditions rightfully, where do my concerned situation would fall then? Interestingly, my 'teh tarik' session with my guy friend has somewhat created a confusion over which and how to perceive by the crowd. I may have the immunity by just being in the 'elites' rank, but certainly from the looks and reactions received, clearly my actions were perceived to fit the contrary social rank. Too many times when I am being spotted to be with another male friends, the next thing either of us will get is a phone call or an email asking for clarification on the 'togetherness' seen. Up to this point, I still feel irritated by this situation and often puzzled. Perhaps, I should feed the crowd's curiosity by saying 'yes' just to let them spare my freedom of act.
While I was trying to ignore the evil eyes and perception of the crowd, my friend raised another perception topic in conversation. He was too concern about my reaction, so he was trying his best to word the sentences in that conversation so his statements did not sound offensive. Knowing his style very well, I was amused by his consciousness at steering the topic to be a decent conversation. I, on the other hand, had been well aware and informed of this topic for a very long time. His concern centralized over the 'strange' perception people has over me. Quoting him, "Like a politician, your situation is very much the same. You are well known to many people yet you certainly do not know all of the many people. This led to a strange condition, where people often don't have a reason and at the same time these people acted like they dislike you very much".
This perception is the one issue which I have been paying extra attention for the longest time in my life. I have been positioned in so many places and cultures, yet I am still puzzled by the ideas they have over me. Since I have all the best chances to make more friends and acquaintances from moving around and travelling, I find it hard to accept that I only have a small circle of them. Many claims that their first impression of me was merely due to my physical attributes. I am seen to be too serious, arrogant and somehow carrying so much pride, in which has created an invisible fence between me and the general public. Perhaps my weakness lies at my social skills. Undeniably, my first observation period is longer than the general usually do whenever I am being presented in a new crowd. Those who knows me well enough would disagree with the 3 descriptions listed before.
In the conversation, my friend included a suggestion where I may be too selective at being associated with someone or making friends. Well, there is certain truth in that suggestion. However, I believe everyone on this earth would practice the same approach. Who would not? That explains the reason we don't know every single person living in the neighbourhood, or going to work and school with or take buss rides together, etc., etc. Routinely we see and come across with so many people while we engage in our daily activities, yet not all came on-board and become buddies or friends to us.
Realizing this fact, then how come we can still hear people claiming, "...I do not choose who I want to be friend with. In fact I can mix and get well with people from all walks of life.."?
It is the approach we choose to use when are being selective at socializing. Many of these unfriendly friends (I still consider them as my friends since we have known each other for long) of mine acknowledged that they do not have reason against me. Yet they choose to distance themselves from me. This kind of perception has seriously affected the development of friendship between me and them for many years before, and I believe will continue so. Occasionally I do stand in front of a full length mirror to see my reflection. Often, I will ask the people I associated to over their perception and impression of me. I do these in view to search for a solution at improving myself personally and socially.
In this imperfect world, the way minds are being shaped are highly influence by the limitations and supports we get from just being in existence on this planet earth. Whether we like it or not, people always make pre-judgement hence distorting some of the message sent through the verbal, non-verbal and body language. Perception is one idea which one choose to accept and understand individually. Who can that you are doing a wrong by starting a fresh friendship with full trust (100%) or with zero trust (0%) and see how things go from there onwards?
As we struggle to progress in life, I realize that it requires so much wisdom to carefully manage perceptions which shall have great effect towards the position one may be in the social structure.