Perception of self vs. how others perceive you
Hercules with the Rock has a couple of sequences that address perception. At the beginning of the film, Hercules is introduced as a mere mortal with the stories about him being exaggerated by his PR person, Iolaus. Hercules has a small issue with this, but as a mercenary, the legends are good for business. Still, he knows that he is just a man and says so. One of his companions says that it doesn’t matter how he perceives himself but it does matter how others perceive him.
This rings true in one respect. At any workshop about empowerment, people are told that if they do not tell their own stories, the stories that others tell of them will become true. In essence, someone who allows others to believe that they have a problem with authority will soon become known as the person who has a problem with authority. It won’t matter that the person doesn’t have a problem with authority but with one particular person in power and just doesn’t want to confront that person on this singular point. Once the perception has set in, all interactions whether innocent mistakes or intentional will be viewed through that lens.
These stories are the same stories that the dominant class tells about minorities. When the people in power say that a certain group of people is lazy, that they don’t want to work and that they are syphoning off the system, that becomes the story for everyone in that classification.
On Fox News, it is the poor who fit this description. Fox doesn’t talk about the person working three jobs who never sees his or her family and still can’t make ends meet. It doesn’t talk about the fact that two people working minimum wage cannot afford a two bedroom apartment in many states in the U.S. So the story becomes for poor people that they are lazy, and it is backed up by inherently false beliefs about capitalism. With no one interested in telling the story of the working poor, people are left to watch the surfer on welfare buying extravagant foods, gaming the system and getting his 15 minutes of fame to satisfy his attention seeking urges.
While to this point the argument is clearly skewed toward how others perceive you as being the most important, Hercules presents the other side of the coin near the end of the film. Through the urging of a friend, Hercules' perception of himself is able to change, and he is able to pull off an even greater feat of strength than before. He perceives himself as the strongman of legend and becomes that strongman. It is his own self-confidence that creates his inner story.
In essence, the two positions presented are a false dichotomy. It isn’t either/or when it comes to perception. How you perceive yourself is important to your self-worth, self-confidence and your ability to make good decisions in the face of social and employment pressure. You have to give yourself a chance to be perceived, and how you perceive yourself is the first step.
However, it is also important to recognize that how others perceive you will affect their interactions with you. Cultivating the right image can make you seem to be the confident, competent person you are. Letting others tell you what you are will only result in you becoming that person even if it is only in the minds of the other. Individuals and groups need to take control of the stories that are told about them, so that they can avoid being shut into a stereotype that is at best unflattering at worst a hateful lie.