Allowing what we see to influence — or even overpower — what we believe
Have you ever thought of a goal or a dream and decided that you couldn’t accomplish it — that it was so out of your reach that there just wasn’t a point in even trying? Maybe you told yourself that something just “isn’t meant for you”, or that you’re not “cut out for it”.
I’d like to encourage you to think a bit deeper about what made you feel this way. At first thought, it may seem obvious — maybe you have a clear lack of experience in a particular area. Or you’ve made and failed several attempts in the past. Or you’re evidently too old/young to pursue xyz.
But it seems like hard work and perseverance would help to overcome many of these obstacles. I would argue that these are all on the surface level of reasons for why we might not allow ourselves to dream big. One of the most deeply rooted — and, as a result, damaging — hinderances is the extent to which what we look like influences the scope of our dreams and how much confidence other human beings have in our potential to be successful.
Allow me to solidify this notion through a prime example in today’s society: the music industry.
Once upon a time, before television and the Internet existed, human beings would listen to music on the radio or a record player. It wouldn’t really matter what an artist looked like, because quite frankly, we didn’t have too much to go off of. All we had was the sound of the music, and that’s (arguably) all that should matter in determining who succeeds in an art form that exists solely for the sake of our ears.
Nowadays, this simply isn’t the case. Artists can’t just be good at singing — we’re always looking for “the full package”. In fact, I think most of us would agree that some artists are admitted into and thrive in the music industry more so because of how they look rather than how well they sing. The industry has identified the weight our species places on physical appearances and brilliantly capitalizes on it through music videos, magazine covers and advertisements like no tomorrow.
The frustration with this shift in values in the industry is evident. In response to a record label that requested that she lose weight, Adele famously declared that she makes music for ears, not eyes; Beyonce talks about her frustration with society’s values in her documentary Life is But a Dream:
When Nina Simone put out music, you loved her voice. That’s what she wanted you to love. You didn’t get brainwashed by her day-to-day life. That’s not your business. It shouldn’t influence the way you listen to the voice and the art, but it does.
Here, Beyonce speaks to the powerful effect of something as seemingly trivial as a human being’s day-to-day activities on how successful their music is. She highlights one of several characteristics that can influence our perception of others — some more valid to put weight on than others.
For example, do you respect Oprah Winfrey because she is a wealthy individual or because you genuinely find value in what she has to say? Is something profound because it makes you see the world differently, or just because Oprah said it? Do you dislike Donald Trump because he is a white male or because you believe his ideas and policies lack credibility and/or merit? There is no doubt that these two sides of a human being — the person themselves and their opinions/values/beliefs — influence one another. But if you were to read these individuals’ beliefs on a piece of paper, would your opinion of their merit change?
Many characteristics play a role in this — an individual’s sex, gender, weight, height, hair and age can all impact our brain’s processing of their opinions. Two human beings could make the same statement and have vastly different impacts on their audiences.
It seems like separating the substance of a human being’s ideas and opinions from the individual themselves is often too difficult for our brains to take on — so difficult, in fact, that one of the most common logical fallacies is founded upon failing to address an argument as opposed to the individual making the argument (ad hominem).
Unfortunately, I would claim that the effect of this flaw has much more serious ramifications than just poor argumentative skills. When we place so much emphasis on what we see when we interact with others, we often let it override what others think. Our opinions of their values and beliefs are distorted by what we see, and in turn, our distorted opinion creates a positive feedback loop with the individual’s skewed perception of themselves.
The true detriment to society is realized when we consider that there are human beings in today’s world that might not share their talents or ideas — be it singing, writing, teaching or leading businesses — simply because they have become so conditioned to dream small. For someone like them, the sky is notthe limit. They’re just not “the full package”.
Media play significant roles in fostering this fundamental weakness in our species. Because some of us don’t see individuals who look like us in positions of power or success, our minds may not even allow ourselves to consider what we’re truly capable of achieving — no matter how brilliant they may be.
In some areas, this interference is more limited. For example, with this blog, you likely cannot deduce too much about myself from my content. Beside my profile picture, you have limited information to form a judgment on Prachir Pasricha the human being, and so your mind is free to focus on analyzing the validity of Prachir Pasricha’s ideas and opinions.
But with advancing technology, it becomes increasingly difficult to engage with others without their physical identities affecting an assessment of the merit of their ideas. YouTubers, journalists, artists, politicians and business leaders all have to consciously think about how their appearances influence how their messages are received. In turn, our species needs to consciously evaluate how our interpretations can be swayed by what our eyes see when others communicate with us.
It requires a high level of consistently conscious thinking, but separating the substance of a human being from the individual themselves can allow us to more accurately determine the value of what they have to say. And perhaps most importantly, it allows you to reconsider if something just “isn’t meant for you”.