What is perception? Insights from TedX

How do you know what you think you know?

How does perception shape what you think you’re capable of?

How does it shape how you believe you should interact with others or seek to change the world?

These are the questions that were posed to me at a recent TedX hosted by Bellevue College. Thought-provoking speakers shared talks inspired by the word ‘perception.’

Three speakers were the most meaningful to me that afternoon with conversation themes that encouraged and challenged.

Paula Boggs, a musician and lawyer, shared the story of her personal journey and career. Her resume is amazingly impressive, including leader of the global law department of Starbucks, tech executive, law firm partner, federal prosecutor and U.S. Army captain, to now frontwoman for “Seattle-Brewed Soulgrass,” a chart-topping jazz, rock and Americana-inspired band. There is one common dominator piloting Paula’s life path: self-interest.

Self-interest is usually experienced with negative conations such as egotism or selfishness. However, Paula reclaims it as a virtuous practice of investment in oneself. She gives herself permission to say what she needs and to pursue what she wants to be her best self and live her best life. It is what helped her realize it was not too late to pivot from a successful career in corporate America to starting a band!

Fernando Pérez is a poet and assistant professor of writing at Bellevue College. He spoke about the ‘poetry of witness’ as nurtured through his relationship with his grandmother. She was an immigrant from Mexico who moved to Los Angeles as an adolescent, and her story holds much sorrow and wisdom. Poetry of witness is the ability to hold space, without speaking, to acknowledge another’s suffering. It is to bare witness to another and validate through your physical presence.

In January, I traveled to see my grandmother in England on what was, in essence, a farewell visit as she continues to endure beyond her doctor’s expectations. I identified with Fernando’s story, having had the opportunity to hold space for my grandma.

Akin to how Fernando’s topic resonated with me, so did that of Jane Wong as she spoke on language, relationships and memories. A visiting assistant professor at Pacific Lutheran University, Jane grew up in her parents’ restaurant with rich sensory details that showed her that language is all around us. She believes we are all the authors of our stories. Sensory details are the illustrative, critical parts of our memories that give us our sense of past, place and feeling. For instance, how a familiar smell is intertwined with a childhood memory or how a flavor conjures a remembrance of a defining occasion in our lives.

Many of the speakers gave me pause, an insight that triggered intense reflection. What did I gain from Paula, Fernando and Jane?

Self-interest is a noble, yet daunting exercise. It is possible to be humble, real and kind while practicing it.

The poetry of witness is not limited to those in my life that are aging. I can bare witness and hold space for my friends, family and colleagues everyday by just being present.

Be more intentional and thoughtful to imprint the sensory details of my life. Pause to savor and bookmark what I hear, see, taste, smell and feel. Inscribing these details into my memory honors the story I have to tell.