Subjective perception and conflict

In philosophy, there are two types of truths, subjective and objective. Objective truths are things like “1+1=2” or “The Earth orbits the Sun.” Subjective truths are things like “Metal is the best genre of music” or “Gaudi is the best architect.”

Objective truths are true regardless of whose point of view is being considered. No matter who anybody is, where they are or how they see things, the Earth will always orbit the Sun. Subjective truths, however, are dependent on the perception of an individual. Not everybody thinks metal is the best genre of music, it’s only true to those who perceive metal as enjoyable.

Perception is a funny thing. Two people can look at the exact same thing and have two radically different points of view. What disgusts one entices another, what causes joy to some may cause sorrow to others.

It’s one of the most fascinating parts about people, I think. We all have wildly different opinions, views and conceptions about things. It’d be pretty boring if we all thought of things in the exact same way. If everybody had the exact taste in food, If everybody thought that chocolate ice cream was universally better than vanilla ice cream, grocery stores would become a lot more bland.
Not taking the subjectivity of perception into account is probably the number one source of conflict across the world. Two people don’t see things in the same way, but act as their way is the singular correct way to see things or don’t conceive that another can differ in how things seem.

Most prominent is misunderstandings in intention. What is meant as friendly and open gets perceived as insulting and aggressive, and through no fault of either party a conflict arises, sides are taken, and then there are two sides competing to best the other.

When two people realize that many arguments are just trying to argue one subjective truth over the other, conflict ceases to exist. Is there really any point in trying to convince someone that they don’t like their favorite food? Of course not, but look at how many times couples fight over what one meant and how the other is perceiving things.

Physics tells us that there is no single correct frame of reference, no one way to look at things that is more valid than the other. Physics gets to say this because of all the math behind it. The fact that the math checks out no matter what reference frame is being used is proof of that.

It’s harder to make a statement like that about perception. Each culture has its own way of looking at things. Likewise, no culture’s view is any more or less valid another – there’s absolutely no way an American can tell any other culture what they should value or what customs should exist.

It may be all subjective truths, but it doesn’t feel that way for those that go against a culture that they are in. Holding preferences that are viewed to be against the norm can be thought of as simply weird, or downright aberrant and antisocial.

Acknowledging the subjectivity of perception can not only help solve personal individual conflict, but if acceptance is great enough, can even resolve cultural problems. The mistrust and tension between South Korean and Black communities in LA in the ‘80s was in part due to differing cultural norms.

Two different cultures with different points of view misinterpreted the actions of the other – when that happens, conflict is almost inevitable. It takes no real big trick to acknowledge subjectivity, it doesn’t take any education in philosophy either. All that is needed is for one to stop and think where the source of conflict comes from, and to consider if things would look differently from another point of view.

Too often, however, another’s point of view is ignored in favor of self-righteous anger. The feeling of taking personal offense, of outrage at the insensitivity of another can be almost addictive to some. To stop and consider that someone else may see things in a completely different way would mean offense couldn’t be taken anymore.

From relationships to animosity between cultures and nations, differences in perception is often the root of misunderstanding, resentment, fighting and conflict. When the other side dismisses or fails to take into account that different individuals have wildly differing ways of seeing things, only negativity can arise.

Understanding that humans are all different and no one’s opinions are more valid than the other, that’s where peace comes from.