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Perception Breeds Tolerance – Guest Post by Stephanie Smith

perceptionNot too long ago I asked Stephanie Smith to write a followup to Is Tolerance Always  A Virtue?  When you read the post, you’ll see why.  Stephanie has quickly become one of my favorite people.  She didn’t disappoint with this article.  And she has an awesome motorcycle.

What is it that causes the vast perception differences in our culture?  Perception is basically knowledge we gain through our life experiences, i.e. prior exposure to certain conditions, patterns and stereotypes. Thus it would follow that the more exposure a person has to a variety of experiences and people, the more tolerance would be developed.


Benjamin Disraeli stated:“Travel teaches tolerance” and I have found that to be so true. Since my father was career Air Force, I spent much of my youth overseas and it not only broadened my horizons, it did indeed teach me tolerance as well as acceptance of people who were different than me.

I will give you a prime example: myself.  If you met me while I was working as a nurse, you would probably have the perception that I was a caring, passionate, clean cut looking woman. If, on the other hand, you met me as I got off my Harley, wearing biker attire, showing some of my tattoos, you might have the perception of a tough chick, who doesn’t take flak from anyone and who carries a variety of weapons on her person (knives, stun gun, baton, to name a few).

Now picture me sitting in my husband’s ICU waiting room, never leaving the hospital , as he is in a coma fighting for his life because some woman tried to make an illegal U turn from the fast lane of an Interstate.

Harley chick?

What if I told you that the Harley chick also goes to church every Sunday and personally organizes and hosts a charity event annually, that raises over $8000.00 for the local humane shelter?  Would that information change your mind? Perhaps.  By no means am I a paragon – I have many faults, as do we all. I am simply trying to demonstrate that what you see is not always what you get.

Perceptions are faulty at best and the biker subculture reaps many false perceptions from people because they do not have enough experience with that lifestyle to formulate a remotely accurate perception, much less develop a tolerance for it.

Watching “Sons of Anarchy” does NOT mean you know ANYTHING about the motorcycle subculture. It IS a subculture, with its own set of values and protocols, something most people never learn about. Most bikers have more honor and respect than they ever get credit for.  The general public has no idea that bikers raise more money for charity every year than the average family or individual.  We do runs for everything from Toys for Tots, March of Dimes, Humane Shelters, Veterans …the list is long.


But … “motorcycles are dangerous”,  they say.  Really?  Most motorcycle accident statistics show that CAR DRIVERS are MOST often RESPONSIBLE for the crashes.  “I just didn’t see the bike, officer.”  Well, wake up and pay attention!

I have been riding a motorcycle of one type or another since I was 13 and the only wrecks I have ever had were in my car! Not my fault either –but that’s another story.

Can you see where I am going with this?  Until we as a people, can learn to not judge a book by its cover, so to speak, tolerance will not grow. Changing people’s perceptions requires that they broaden their horizons.

I spent many years defending my mother to other kids’ parents who only saw her high heels and tattoos. They didn’t see the cancer survivor, the kind hearted animal lover, the woman who would do anything to help someone in need.  That taught me to not judge others simply by what I see.  A very good friend once told me: “Time tells all.” – how true is that?!

Now, as a woman who has made many choices of her own, I am not bothered by the stares or occasional snide remarks. Why? Because if someone is that quick to judge me, when they do not know me, then the shame is theirs.  My decisions do not reflect on them.

Perception is a mirror not a fact.

Look past the motorcycle or the tattoos and SEE THE PERSON. You might just be surprised.

 About The Author: Stephanie Smith is the author of the blogm,  Half the battle is believing .  Other than the Harley and nursing, she likes to dance and generally be an excellent person.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • NiroZ September 19, 2009, 1:52 am

    Er, whether motorcycles cause the accidents or not does not make them any more or less dangerous. It just means it’s not their fault.

  • Rhys September 19, 2009, 4:16 am

    Great post Stephanie.

    I’m very familiar with bikers, we’re in an “Outlaw” town (I think it’s the proper terminology) – and whilst yes they look intimidating (particularly when I was working in a bar), they are some of the most nicest, caring & giving people I’ve met.

    So yes, perceptions are there to be broken! As somebody who has traveled extensively, each trip breaks another perception, and most of the world likes the same things you do! 🙂

  • Greg September 19, 2009, 5:41 am

    My father-in-law runs a Harley repair shop, and the vast majority of the people that come in there are truly nice, wonderful people.

    Stereotyping is a failing of humanity, and its unfortunate how the behavior of a few people can shape the way we view others.

  • Cutthroat Stalker September 19, 2009, 6:12 am


    Rings true with me. My dad was navy for 21 years. I’m a 6th grade teacher (one of those “compassion” jobs?). I ride a bike. I go to church every Sunday. When people from church see me in town in my leathers, they’re not sure how to approach me. I find it quite entertaining!

    (And I have a scary nom de guerre to help cement the deal. Actually, it’s a fly fishing thing.)

    -scott c

  • Mike S September 19, 2009, 8:45 am

    I’m blessed to know Stephanie personally. She and her husband are two of our favorite people in the whole world. I ride, and have had the stares as well – until a Hot Wheels motorcycle is pulled out of a saddlebag and handed to the starer’s child, all the while with a smile on my face.

    It’s amusing to watch the smile pop up on the face that was staring at you only moments earlier.

    Good post once again Steph. As always, I enjoy your posts.


  • Stephanie Smith September 19, 2009, 8:59 am

    Cutthroat Stalker,
    Awesome -you are a prime example of what I meant by what you see is not always what you get. Let’s keep breaking the stereotype!
    Ride safe & keep the rubber side down!

  • Stephanie Smith September 19, 2009, 9:07 am

    To Rhys,
    Thank you for the compliment. I was truly hinored when Josh asked me to write a post and this just seemed to flow right onto the page. If you live ib a “black & white” territory, i.e. “outlaws being the reining 1%’er club in that area – you will often see that bikers who belong to clubs have a very strict standard of behaviour and as with anyone, as long as you respect them and their thoices, they will offer the same in return.
    I get told a lot that my husband is very intimidating unless someone manges to get to know him well. It’s all perception.
    Traveling does break false perceptions because nothing beats a true life experience to change your mind about something, someone, or someplace. As much as I love books, they rarely have the same visceral effect as “the real thing.”

  • Stephanie Smith September 19, 2009, 9:43 am

    Dear NiroZ,
    Hmmm…I do believe this is a clear case where your comment reflects more about yourself than it does about your opinion of my post. My posting was about perception. Just because the accidents are not their fault, my Harley is dangerous? Well, if we are to follow your theory, then I guess none of us should drive either, since many car accidents are not the DRIVER’s fault.
    If you have failed to duly note my sarcasm, well then I can’t help you. I was reflecting on a sterotype that a certain thing is seemed dangerous: like motorcycles, hunting, car racing, horeseback riding, etc.
    If that did not claify my meaning….well on to ride
    another day and proves the Harley saying: If I have to explain, you just wouldn’t understand.”

  • Dawn September 19, 2009, 9:59 am

    So true that traveling does make for greater tolerance. You get to see other cultures and their lifestyles. We are all different yet one in the same. I loved reading your post. Well written and from the heart!

  • NiroZ September 19, 2009, 10:12 am

    Stephanie. For someone who preaches looking beyond the stereotypes, your mighty hypocritical. (your comment reflects more about yourself than it does about your opinion of my post.) I did not make any judgement about whether people should ride motorcycles or not, your perception of my stereotype assumed that. In fact, your idea of my thesis is ridiculous. Everything has some level of danger.

    The fact is, when riding a motorcycle, you are at more danger than if you are in a car, due to cars. It’s the same with people like me who are cyclists. In fact, I’ve experienced it first hand. To argue that it’s not the motorcyclists fault is a non sequitur, it has no bearing on the case.

    By the way, you don’t seem to know what sarcasm is. This sentence is clearly not sarcasm, because it is not trying to imply another meaning, no, not at all, because then I would be showing you an example of sarcasm, and why would I want to do that? I’m not sure what type of mockery or ridicule you were actually trying to project, but you failed.

    In any case, thank you for convincing me that people who try to promote tolerance can be just as stupid as everybody else. Good thing I got that stereotype out of the way. I mean, usually people don’t try to actively insult someone when they just point out an error in reasoning, because they know better than to take it personally, clearly you don’t. And if I have to explain that to you, I could say “If I have to explain, you just wouldn’t understand.” but that would just be rude.

  • Laura - The Journal of Cultural Conversation September 19, 2009, 11:29 am

    Stephanie – This is excellent. Wow. First, I had no idea that bikers raised more money than any person/individual (so I definitely learned something new today, thank you). I fall into this so many times – judging books by their covers – so I am not perfect. But then I turn it around and think, “how would I explain myself to others?” And there is no one word. Someone might look at me and say I’m just a 34 year old single woman that works in advertising. That’s what the resume says. But even a longer resume wouldn’t state that I have a tattoo, eat 2 chocolate chip cookies a day and spend many hours a week writing letters to politicans about women’s rights issues. I just recently rebranded myself as a cultural anthropologist. That should cover it all, right? 🙂 Hope to see you again here on WSL and will check out your site too!

  • Daisy September 19, 2009, 6:06 pm

    Great post. I often tell people I was raised by biker parents. My parents rode Suzukis, mainly, and led up national biker clubs. They taught motorcycle riders courses and were instrumental in bringing the classes to the nearby tech school. Sturgis? They loved it. My dad donated a bike to a museum in ND somewhere – I really ought to see it someday. 😉

  • Belinda September 19, 2009, 8:23 pm

    Thanks Steph. I love what you have shared. I think the assumptions we make as humans go along way to dividing us as people. My goal in life is to stop myself from blindly making assumptions which falls in perfectly with what you are sharing.
    I have to add that I had thought I clicked on one of the wedding blogs I follow and couldn’t work out how assumptions about bikers fitted in to the wedding planning blog LOL. But obviously kept reading and thoroughly enjoyed and of course realised this was Josh’s blog.

  • sarah carroll September 20, 2009, 11:25 am

    I have been thinking about this post for a while now. I think I was a lot more tolerant as a child (before I had very many experiences). I get what you are saying and everything, but I believe children are the most tolerant.
    I have had some great biker friends, so I dont pass judgement there as far as what ‘type’ of people they are. But I do believe that you could get hurt and injured more in a motercycle accident then if you are strapped into a car.

    • Josh Hanagarne September 20, 2009, 11:30 am

      Sarah, I personally think it’s a fact. If I run into a car while on my motorcycle, I’m less protected than if I run into a car while in a car. I don’t know how to argue against it. Anyways, I’m too chicken for motorcycle, so I won’t have to worry about it.

  • sarah carroll September 20, 2009, 4:40 pm

    I know, its common sense, right? There just seemed to be some sort of argument going on as to why motercycles are considered dangerous.

  • NiroZ September 21, 2009, 12:29 am

    Sarah, you obviously haven’t been one of the children who were the outcasts of the group. Before the age of 3-4, yes, children are indeed non discriminatory, but after that, they tend to discriminate against anybody different from the norm.

  • Heather September 21, 2009, 8:15 am

    Thank you thank you thank you for this wonderful post! I was really good friends with a biker guy I met on a music web site. We kinda had a thing. . . ::blush:: he’s in jail now for trying to defend himself and a good friend at a bike rally back this past spring. He was one of the best people I have ever met. In fact, MOST bikers I’ve met up with are nice, decent, caring, rather wonderful folk. Now, I don’t ride a bike meself (balance issues) but I do have tattoos, I befriend the “weird kids” no one else at my school tends to even notice, and I try real hard not to judge folk based on looks. I gotta tell ya, sister–and I believe you are my sister–some of the nastiest, most vile, most obnoxious people I’ve ever met claim to be:

    “Decent” and oh, here’s the kicker—NON-JUDGMENTAL!

    Keep up da great work, hotness! You just got your brilliant self another reader! 🙂

  • sarah carroll September 21, 2009, 8:31 am

    Tolerance isn’t just about the way others appear to us. There is another side to tollerance, and that is tollerating peoples behaviors. Of course as a child I was an outcast once in a while. Of course I was shy once in a while. For a while I wouldn’t have anything to do with a man if he had a beard.
    But, as a child I was quicker to forgive certain people and situations, where now as an adult it would be more difficult for me to do so. I was more tollerant.
    As a child, I was also more tollerant of….
    my grandmother’s mental illness, people talking down to me, being late, someone not washing thier hands, a person covered in mud or picking thier nose, someone wearing rags, being yelled at, bad drivers, moving (having all my belongings in storage for months, screaming children, dirty houses, know it all’s, people who dont shut up, …
    Of course I tolerate these things now. As a child it was much easier for me to do so.

  • NiroZ September 21, 2009, 8:38 am

    Where did I say that?

    You might have been more tolerant, but kids in general aren’t, as you being an outcast shows. Besides, you were mostly tolerant of adults, which as most kids have respect for adults anyway, doesn’t count.

  • Stephanie Smith September 21, 2009, 9:25 am

    Blush! You made my Monday when I read your comment. I am so humbled by the comments this post generated that I am happily suprised to realize people have gotten as much enjoyment out of reading it as I did from writing it.
    I will gladly return the favor -shoot me an email or contact me via the blog -sounds like we have the start of a friendship. It’s all about connections! You are SO right about the people who claim to be so righteous and yet don’t practice what we preach.
    I can see from some of the comments that people don’t realize that no matter how hard you try not to make snap judgements, we all do it at one time or another. It’s a work in progress, as with any self improvements.
    Thanks for brightening my day!

  • Stephanie Smith September 21, 2009, 9:43 am

    As this was a guest post, I am trying hard to look at your comments with an open mind. My commentary to you was not meant to be rude, but with your subsequent comments to others, I will just say that you are obviously an equal opportunity downer. Do you ever have anything positive to say? Yes- THAT was sarcasm, one thing at which my friends will tell you I excel at. While I am on a roll, I did not insult you in my comment. If you really read what I wrote, you would realize that I never claimed to be perfect. Tolerance is an ongoing process of self-improvment. We all judge others at one time or another…after all, MOST of us are human, with all of the strenghts and weaknesses that the human condition entails.
    I was not taking what you said personally because, quite frankly, we don’t know each other and therefore you have no impact on me personally. If calling me stupid made you’re day, then I am glad I could help. 🙂
    Most people who only make negative comments tend to do so out of self esteem issues. Hold on- I said most people, so before you get all wound up, take it for what is written, not your narrow minded viewpoint.
    Lastly, unless you can comment back that you own a motorcycle, not a bicycle, you may want to refrain from speaking on a topic about which you have NO direct knowledge.

  • Stephanie Smith September 21, 2009, 9:53 am

    The commentary about motorcycles being dangerous was meant to illustrate that people have a misconception about it. Anything can be dangerous, even walking accross the street and yes there is less protection in an accident on a motorcycle vs a car, however it also has alot to do with the rider’s skill. If you ride defensively, you are safer than if you expect people to see you.
    It is sad that I have had to respond to people who only have negative things to say because they picked on one small aspect out of the whole post.
    On to your comment -thank you for bringing up the part about children. I agree that we are all more tolerant as children and I think it is because we have yet to learn the prejudices that come from the adults around us. Kids are open and it is not just from respecting their “elders” – I think it is because the world is so new to them that they experience it in a different mindset. Life has not changed their perceptions from either bad influences or hard lessons (the exception being abused kids of course).

  • Stephanie Smith September 21, 2009, 9:56 am

    Your comment about the wedding site mistake brought to mind a favorite saying of mine: “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I believe I ended up where I needed to be.” Thank you-glad you liked it.

  • NiroZ September 21, 2009, 10:24 am

    Back to the original argument, look at this.
    http://www.dft.gov.uk/adobepdf/162469/221412/221552/228173/3162761/motorcyclingstats2008.pdf Can you deny that it’s more dangerous to be on a motorcycle now? To quote the study: Motorcyclists are at a much greater risk of death or serious injury than other road users. The relative risk of a motorcycle rider being killed or seriously injured per kilometre travelled was 54 times higher in 2006 than for car drivers.

    FYI, saying someone might fit a certain generalisation is still insulting. Let me demonstrate. Your a women, and most women are over emotional and irrational. Of course, I don’t agree with this, but it’s the exactly the same thing.

    But this is irrelevant, because you obviously agree with me. You said “Well, if we are to follow your theory, then I guess none of us should drive either, since many car accidents are not the DRIVER’s fault.” You claim this was sarcasm, this means that you actually were joking, and don’t think my theory means that.

    “I will just say that you are obviously an equal opportunity downer.” Another bigoted ad hominem assumption. You seem to be rather good at these for someone who allegedly supports tolerance.

    Where do I claim that your not perfect? Furthermore, I said as stupid as everybody else, thus an IQ of roughly 100. The fact is, I argue with a lot of people in order to test their character, see if they can accept their opinions being disputed without seeing themselves as insulted. Commonly, including you, they can’t, which is rather saddening. I did not say you were inherently stupid. You’d have to provoke me a lot more than you have in order for me to make that claim.

    And to quote you, as it obviously isn’t insulting; if that did not clarify my meaning….well on to ride another day and proves the Harley saying: “If I have to explain, you just wouldn’t understand.”

  • Wizard September 21, 2009, 11:14 am

    From the time we open our eyes in the morning to the time we close them at night we are judging, whether it is ourselves or others, we all do it. No matter how you perceive yourself you judge everyone you look at whether it is on a conscious level or a subconscious level. Does this make us bad people, no, it just makes us human, it is what you do with the judgment that is the critical factor. When you look at a person who is obviously overweight you see them as that, now is the critical time, you make a judgment about that person, do you say she is fat and not worth knowing, or do you say, I wonder who she is as a person. Judging people is natural and normal and nothing to be ashamed of, how you judge will determine what type of person you are.

  • Julia September 21, 2009, 1:54 pm

    As heartwarming as Stephanie’s post is, it starts with an assumption that everyone who has ever been subject to intolerance is a good person who’s simply misunderstood. I would argue that there are plenty of people, relative to behaviors, that deserve intolerance. What about abusers and malevolent enablers? What about power trippers that tear others down for gain (or even amusement)? The list of behaviors that shouldn’t be tolerated in others is too long to even make a decent dent in it here.

    You could argue that people who indulge in those behaviors should be guided to better choices, more constructive action, but the really intelligent ones know what they’re doing and why, and they choose their course in full understanding of the probable outcomes. Not everyone can be fixed with common sense, proper clinical technique and a dose of tolerance. And I’m not talking about people with mental illnesses — I’m talking about people who’ve sanely surveyed their options and chosen to damage others for fun or profit. They exist.

    What about deeply-felt political issues? Does a person who so deeply feels for the plight of the unborn that they injure the ones they feel are doing harm deserve tolerance? Those who generally sing the strongest praises of tolerance are usually the ones who would say not.

    And what about those who destroy private property in the name of the green, living world that can’t speak for itself? What if it were your property? Tolerance?

    I’m not saying those people don’t deserve tolerance, I’m saying a warm, fuzzy blanket of tolerance covers a lot of actions. While you’re making the point that tattoos and biker boots aren’t the devil’s mark, consider that you’ve focused the lens of tolerance too tightly and made your examples too personal.

    Intolerance is sometimes about the way we look or misunderstanding about who we are, but it can also be about defining and rejecting those who have made choices against what we think of as appropriate in a civilized society. The former type can be confused with the latter, but it’s really not the same, and we can do without it. The latter type is indispensable for the continuance of a just, civilized society.

  • Stephanie Smith September 24, 2009, 8:13 am

    I really enjoyed your comments and it was never my intention to insinuate that everyone deserves tolerance. As you mentioned, certain behaviors are abhorrent and should not be tolerated. Keyword being behavior.
    Perception and tolerance are words that can cover a very broad range of topics. I focused on tattoos and bikers because that is where Josh’s request stemmed from -a comment I made about tattoos.
    It was not meant to cover all areas or promote tolerance accross the board.
    Thank you for the time you invested in sharing your thoughts on the subject! 🙂

  • Stephanie Smith September 24, 2009, 8:18 am

    I loved what you said about us all being human and that “it is what you do with the judgment that is the critical factor”. That is so true and I could have taken this post in so many directions for that very reason.
    We should all try to be cognizant of when, how and why we might judge people. I believe awareness creates change. Therefore, if you realize you are judging someone, be AWARE of those thoughts, then DECIDE what to do with your perception. Either validate it or discard. It is a constant process. Thanks brother!

    • Josh Hanagarne September 24, 2009, 9:43 am

      Stephanie, I believe “constant process” is the key. Once you’ve decided to see whatever you expect to see, there’s no more growth.

  • Courtney_182 September 27, 2009, 4:26 pm

    It is always what I think about me that determines my reaction; other people’s perceptions of me are just that – theirs. Great article.