I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of perception—the way people view the world around them and how two people can be looking at the exact same scenario yet see different things.
Anais Nin once said, “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” I heard this when I was just a little girl, and it is still one of my favorite quotes. It communicates what I believe to be an important truth: that our perceptions of the world shape everything we do—how we communicate, how we interact and how we behave in our everyday life.
These perceptions are the very things that dictate what we care about, what we dedicate ourselves to, how we judge other people. And these perceptions are formed by the information, misinformation or lack of information we have access to and take in over time.
Understanding the way perceptions are formed opens the door to empathy. When someone acts in some way or lives a life you don’t understand, if you can acknowledge that there is a whole history within that person that you don’t know, you’re better able to afford him or her the benefit of the doubt. You know that there’s a reason behind the way they move in the world. Their perception is, after all, their reality.
The information, misinformation and lack of information that has been shared about certain neighborhoods and people in Tulsa has formed the perceptions that prevent the very things needed to lift those communities up—the stereotypes and assumptions, the belief that their stories are written, that they’re stuck, that they’re hopeless, that there’s just not much we can do.
But there are many sides to every story, and I think we’re long due to hear the stories of people in underserved communities in Tulsa from their own individual perspectives.
When Brooke and I met to talk about Together Tulsa I was already excited. I’ve known Brooke for 10 years and have been impressed with her since the first day I met her in my 10th grade English class. The passion she has for life is unmatched by most I’ve met. I’ve heard her talk many times about “her kids,” as she lovingly refers to them, and the substantial impact they made on her life.
“Her kids” are from Hale Junior High. Many come from low-income neighborhoods of North and East Tulsa. “Her kids” have had to battle against the crippling perception that many in Tulsa have of them: that the factors beyond their control—their income level, their school, their zip code, their parents, their influencers—render them less capable of great success.
The simple truth is: “her kids” are capable of great success, and in fact they achieve it daily.
But then, why, do such misperceptions exist?
Because many Tulsans been misinformed or uninformed about the real lives of the people who live “on the other side of town”.
That’s where we come in. Together Tulsa, at its core, is a means by which our kids will not only learn the necessary skills, but be given a voice and a platform, to communicate effectively. They’ll have a voice to tell their story, their perceptions and their experiences. A voice all their own that they can use to educate the rest of us about their lives and the lives around them.
It is, perhaps, when we stop talking and start listening to our kids, that we will learn the most.
Rachael Hunter is a Founding Board Member of Together Tulsa. Her story is part of our Story Series, where people from our community and in our organization share their experience and their dreams for our city. If you'd like to share your story, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.