Battling Perceptions

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Let’s say you have three choices for your work commute.

Option A will cost you about $2. It will get you outside your office in forty minutes, but you won’t have to be doing anything during that time other than just sitting there.

Option B will cost you $12. It will get you outside your office in about twenty five minutes, but you have to stay focused.

Option C will cost you $50. It will get you outside your office in about twenty minutes and you won’t have to be doing anything during that time other than just sitting there.

These options are going to have different appeal to different people, of course. Some might simply always choose the $50 option because their time is valuable, or the $2 option because it gives them time to study on their way to class, or the $12 option because they need flexibility during their workday. Let’s shade the options a little more, though.

With option C, you’ll be in a vehicle with one other person who likely won’t say a word to you.

With option B, you’ll be by yourself.

With option A, you’ll be with dozens of other people who may or may not communicate with you.

Does that change your choice? How about this factor? With option A, you have a good chance of having a number of homeless or impoverished people interacting with you, and it might not be perfectly clean.

Does that change your choice? I’m pretty certain, based on many reader conversations I’ve had, that it would change the choice for quite a few of you. Many readers have suggested that they won’t use public transportation because the other people on there make them uncomfortable. They’re willing to pay a decent premium every single day to drive into the city or, in at least one case, take a taxi to work.

Should it make a difference, though? When is it worth paying extra for a service or a product to be able to buy it or use it in a more upscale environment?

How often do you quietly choose to go to a more expensive place or buy a more expensive product because of the perception that the other, less expensive option is for poor people or people lacking class or that it simply makes you feel uncomfortable in some nebulous and hard-to-describe way? Is that an extra cost that’s really worth taking on?

The catch is that there’s really no right answer here. Most of the time, people don’t even question assumptions like these – they act without even thinking about whether or not the assumption makes sense.

The next time you choose not to use a particular service or shop at a particular store because of a class or income level factor, stop for a moment and ask yourself whether that factor is really as important as you’re choosing to believe that it is.

Does it really make any difference where you shop? Does it really make any difference what mode of transportation you choose to use? If there is a difference, is it worth that extra cost to you to use the “nicer” version?

Maybe it’s worth it for you. Maybe, upon further reflection, you’re making a more expensive choice for a silly reason. Either way, you gain by having checked out your assumptions.

This is particularly true when you’re looking at assumptions that might have once held true for you but no longer do so. The culture of an area might have changed. Your perceptions about the value of money might have shifted, too.

When you hear about someone using a particular mode of transportation or buying a particular product and it gives you an immediate reaction, particularly a negative one, try and figure out why you get that negative reaction. What is it about that thing that makes you feel negatively? Why? Is it really a worthwhile reason?

You might just find that your ideas of the past were keeping you from making better choices for yourself today.

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