The Oxford dictionary defines the term ‘perception’ as “the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.” The term has distinct meaning or essence in psychology, medical science and in other areas. Whatever meaning and essence it may have in various technical areas, the plain and literal meaning of “perception” is the forming of a view or opinion or presumption on the part of the people in relation to a person or a group of persons, or about a business or an organisation, and so on. The perception that people form can be positive or negative.
Perception is important in each and every sector, be it business, the profession or services. When people form a negative perception about a business or a service provider or a professional person, that business, service provider or professional person cannot do well in the real field. A person perceived to be dishonest or murderer or corrupt, no matter whether those allegations are false, cannot win the sympathy of the mass people. On the other hand, a positive perception can take a business or professional to the highest step of the ladder of success. For example, some medical doctors in Bangladesh have built up such an extraordinary positive perception about themselves that their patients start queuing well before their surgery hours begin. Some patients even believe that those doctors have magic in their hands and the patients can fully recover thanks to the medicines those doctors prescribe! Similar perceptions have been won by some lawyers, land and property developers, some specific bands of products and so on.
However, perception is one of the most important factors in democratic politics, for it attracts people’s attention to or diverts people’s attention from particular politicians or particular political parties. A person of whom the general public has negative perception, no matter who he or she is, or a party of which there is a negative perception, no matter how active and old that party may be, cannot do well in the conventional voting system of democracy. This was recently proved in the Upazla Parishad election in Bangladesh. The Jatiya Party (JP), which ran the country for nearly a decade and who had the former longest serving President of Bangladesh as its chair, has seen its support dwindle to little more than zero due to acutely negative perception people have of it. In democracy, the mandate of the people matters most. It is considered to be the ladder for a party to go into office or fall from office. Regardless of education, family background and class, all votes of the voters have equal weight and importance. Perception is the most important lever that shifts voters’ minds, quickly and suddenly.
Perception, be it negative or positive, can be formed, can emerge or can be built up for many reasons and by different factors, both suddenly as well as over a period of time. Often those reasons and factors can be false, concocted and misleading. Psychologist Jerome Bruner has developed a model of perception through his research. According to him, people go through various processes to form perceptions. Psychologist Alan Saks and Gary Johns believe that there are three components to perception. The other experts have given a definition of perception and explained its components of the perception in their own ways.
The media, both electronic and print, plays a great role in leading the public to form a positive or negative perception. Negative media propaganda can make a hero into zero or a zero into hero. More or less the similar thing can be said in relation to a political party. We have known and seen many personalities in the world who have made history. We would not be able to know them had the media not had unearthed them. As US President Borak Obama, in his book, Audacity of Obama, rightly said “I am not what I am, but what media made me to be.”
Politics is a very difficult and complex area. In theory, the politics should be the fight of ideologies and policies in decent and democratic ways. Unfortunately, this is not happening, at least in developing countries. There, politicians tend to promise to build bridges where there are no rivers! While healthy and ideological politics can take the nation forward, nasty politics and smear campaigns can pollute the environment of society and destabilise the whole nation. In developing countries, the beauty of democratic norms - such as, mutual respect, politeness, tolerance, consensus and honesty - appear to have been replaced by revenge, disrespect, hostility and character assassination. In those societies, issues become led by common perceptions rather than by evidence or merit.
Charismatic, dynamic or visualised politicians will do everything possible in advance to keep public perceptions of themselves and their respective parties positive. They will even sometimes do pre-emptive strikes or divert their maximum resources to either overshadow or at least minimise negative propaganda so that public perceptions of them and their parties kept intact. Sitting ideally or doing nothing or standing without response in a mountainous flood of negative propaganda which results in negative perceptions being formed cannot be a suitable and practical option. It is essential to knock in the right place at the right time. Otherwise, delay or passiveness can cause irreparable damages to them and their parties. We have been witnessing some of these kinds of damage in Bangladesh.
According to Paul Joseph Goebbels, Propaganda Minister of Adolf Hitler, if a lie is repeated 100 times, the public end up believing the statement is true. This doctrine appears to be well practised in the developed countries as well as in third world countries. For example, before Iraq was invaded, the powerful nations on earth, with the assistance of reputable international media, were able to create an international perception that Saddam Hossain was a dangerous person. His presence made the world unsafe, as he had weapons of mass destruction. The sooner Saddam Hossain was got rid off, the better for the world, the better for Iraq. The same thing was repeated over 100 times, with different wording. Through a dodgy dossier people were convinced that Saddam Hossain could strike UK interests within 45 minutes! The world later knew that everything was false. The so called intelligence-led operation, as opposed to the evidence-based operation, had a catastrophic effect for the world in general and for Iraq in particular. The evidence and dossier may be dodgy, but those who were behind the operation were successful in forming a negative perception by which they archived what they had wanted to archive.
The doctrine of Goebbels appears to be routinely practiced in the developing countries, albeit in implied terms. Thus, we see sensational or intentional media reports, often false or concocted, prior to the election dramatically change the voting patterns in those countries. Many internationally reputable individuals lose their deposit in a humiliating manner, with others being defeated despite winning a dignified number of votes. The people quickly form perceptions. They are even quicker to change or shift their perception.
In Bangladesh, many lies in relation to certain people and a few political parties are repeated not in 100 times, but, in fact, in million times or more! What have concerned politicians and political parties of which and of whom there are negative perceptions and about whom negative propaganda is spread done to face this or remove this? There are many techniques and steps which could have been taken to remove those negative perceptions. They appear to have done nothing. Instead, they appear to have opted for the option of sitting idly and doing nothing, or standing without making a response. One cannot fight a tank or a fighter plane with a straw or a bamboo stick. One cannot face a wind with 180 miles per hour with a normal woman’s umbrella! The soon concerned politicians and political parties of whom there are acutely negative perceptions realise this, the better for them and the better for their parties.
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