Many years ago, I read the story of six blind men who attempted to describe an elephant by their sense of touch. It was said that the blind man who felt the leg said the elephant was like a tree. The one who felt the belly said the elephant was like a wall. One felt the tail and said the elephant was like a rope. Another felt the trunk and said the elephant was like a snake. The blind man who felt the ears said the elephant was like a hand fan while the one who felt the tusk concluded that the elephant was like a spear. Now, having seen an elephant in reality and in its entirety with my bespectacled eyes, I know that a complete elephant does not come close to any of these descriptions. But yes, the parts of the elephant might be said to look similar to the respective objects that the blind men perceived it to be. Each of the blind men’s subjective perception was true, albeit limited, yet untrue from a holistic perspective. There are variations to this story but its core moral is that perception is limited and will not always give a full picture of reality. 

As a DIRTPOL Project researcher, I am beginning to encounter a lot of perceptions on the field, in relation to the Project’s issues of interest. I realize that perceptions are usually influenced by experience, bounded by context and expressed in content. For me, the challenge will be to accurately identify perceptions that are stated as facts and assumptions that are disguised as perceptions, and to deal with them accordingly. Consequently, I will probe these perceptions. I will analyse these perceptions. I will evaluate these perceptions. But most importantly, I must define these perceptions within their appropriate context and content. The need to consider all the sides to a story, all the angles to a perspective and all the viewpoints to an issue, to be able to draw relatively valid and reliable conclusions, cannot be overemphasised. Perceptions are simply what they are – perceptions, and they do not always give the full picture. Why? Because the way an individual sees something from this side may not really be the way it looks from that other side.

About the author:  Jane Nebe is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in education and schools.  Jane is based in Lagos, her academic background is in pedagogy and she speaks Igbo, Yoruba, NigerianPidgin and English。

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex.  For more information please visit the DirtPol website.  

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