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July 6, 2022

Self perceptions and how volunteering can help shape them

Written by Bhavika

Do you believe in the same things you did as a child? Did any of your beliefs change while growing up? Perhaps entering college, starting a new phase of life shifted your ideologies or values. Maybe you are the same person you were then or maybe you have changed. It’s time to think about if something did alter and why.

Do you believe in the same things you did as a child? Did any of your beliefs change while growing up? Perhaps entering college, starting a new phase of life shifted your ideologies or values. Maybe you are the same person you were then or maybe you have changed. It’s time to think about if something did alter and why. 

There are two types of people in this world, those who see the glass as half empty and others who see it as half-full. This is what we call perception and what shapes our lives going forward. 

Formation of self-perceptions 

As soon as we take our first breath in this world, we are surrounded by different people who believe in different things. From the moment our brain becomes capable of understanding the surroundings, we are fed the daily dose of opinions and perspectives which ultimately become the basis of our identity. It’s not something we choose or select, instead, it is something we are obligated to consume. 

If you don’t believe it, close your eyes and think of some things you feel strongly about, think about the prejudices you hold, or some preconceived notion that is hard to let go of. Now try to reflect on where these ideas and notions stem from. It could be that some of these judgments were a result of experiences but the majority are rooted in the perceptions of our community. 

The interactions we have with the individuals and groups, especially the more systemic forces like the media, family, and our culture play an essential role in influencing who we are and what we feel about ourselves and the world. In simple terms, we can call this socialization but it’s too complicated a phenomenon to be encapsulated in a mere word. 

Influencing these perceptions

We grow up with a certain set of beliefs, values, and perceptions which help us make sense of the world around us. These perceptions about ourselves, our peers, and society play a powerful role in painting the blank canvas of our mind to present us with a self-concept. While you may believe that after growing up, we have the choice of selecting or changing our identity and attitudes, the truth of the matter is that the formation and adaptation of these perceptions is limited to two factors, either through our experiences or through social and cultural influences. 

But how are these perceptions related to volunteering you ask? And why are they even important enough to warrant a second thought let alone a dilemma? 

Why are they important?

Well, it is not as simple as growing up with one ideology and living your whole life believing in the same. The powerful forces of our family, friends, and culture bestow us with positive mindsets but along those, they also serve up negative perceptions. The world is ever-changing and urges us too, to change according to times. And change is never easy especially when the negative perceptions restrict you, tying the mind up in bonds of old withered beliefs. Resisting this change is like being a tree that stands tall opposite the strong winds. The more rigid and taller the tree stands, the easier it becomes for it to snap and break. Opposing the strong current is not a smart choice, instead, a fool’s dream. If we talk scientifically, when your mind is filled with two conflicting beliefs, when how you behave and what you believe in becomes contradictory, it causes cognitive dissonance. This dissonance is discomforting and causes feelings of unease. And this is why changing and adapting perceptions becomes necessary. 

The role of volunteerism in challenging these perceptions

Volunteering has many benefits, one of which is challenging self-perceptions. When we live the majority of our lives by holding certain beliefs, they become a script we use. We become stagnant in our thinking and stop questioning things. 

Volunteering helps you adapt your perceptions by immersing you in different cultures and communities which makes you actively think about yourself, your mindset. It makes you question your habits, the beliefs you hold, and how they affect your actions. This constant act of questioning plants the seed of curiosity. Curiosity about how your attitude differs from others, doubts on why certain beliefs contradict your actions. Depending on who we interact with, what is our emotional state like, and the subject being discussed, our judgments are questioned forcing us to reflect on our thought process. The challenges sometimes result in frustration and rationalizing but ultimately prove worthy in shifting our perceptions. 

Volunteerism includes a lot of different communities one can participate in to work with. Take the example of one person who has held stereotypes about poor people, believing that they are irresponsible, of low intelligence, and untrustworthy. The person has internalized these perceptions and goes on about life with a prejudicial mindset. But when immersed in a community of the poor, the difference in every person’s circumstance, attitudes, and behavior makes him question his ideas. The environment puts forth a contradictory reality other than what the person believed in. 

In the case of career-oriented perceptions we hold, considering another example, an individual believes his ability to negotiate and manipulate the conversation in his favor, to be superior. But actually, indulging in a workplace formal conversation to negotiate puts forth the mirror to showcase the gaps of learning the individual has. What we imagine ourselves to be superior in, or know everything there is to learn about a particular subject, is challenged profusely in on-ground reality.

Although the perceptions we hold make us think everything is real, it is not. Since perception is merely a lens through which we view people and events, believing it to be a reality, when the lens changes, the reality too alters. 

In a nutshell

Do you hold the same beliefs as you did when you were a child? Ever wonder how your perceptions change? Why is this change necessary and what role does volunteering play in challenging these perceptions? When we live the majority of our lives by holding onto certain beliefs, they become a script we use. We become stagnant in our thinking and stop questioning things. Volunteering helps you adapt your perceptions by immersing you in different cultures and communities which makes you actively think about yourself, your mindset. It makes you question your habits, the beliefs you hold, and how they affect your actions. Although the perceptions we hold make us think everything is real, it is not. Since perception is merely a lens through which we view people and events, believing it to be a reality, when the lens changes, the reality too alters.