Which is more important? The truth (of reality), or what is perceived? Looked at at another way, the questions could also be seen as between “absolute truth” and “relative truth” respectively. I believe perception is, practically speaking, more important than truth.
When we perceive something, it is done with our senses: sight, sound, smell etc,. This input is put through our mind (like a blender, *click* *grrrrr* *ding*). So we come up with a mix of those sensed perceptions, blended with our mind, which gives the final result.
To change a perception, we can add filters to our senses (e.g. spectacles, hearing aid, thick gloves etc,.) that will instantly change reality for the person sensing it. Or, we might change how our mind “blends” the information together, (e.g. reading books on philosophy will change how we perceive the words “Plato” and “Socrates”, from “Great Philosopher” to perhaps “Nonsense King” if we don’t agree with his philosophies).
However, when we have to deal with truth, it becomes a whole different matter totally. You can’t really change the truth without making it into a whole new truth altogether.
Take for example an orange. The truth is that an orange is an orange. With perception, if you’re wearing “green glasses”, an orange will appear green. In reality, the orange is not green, but orange still. But if you decide to paint the orange green, then the truth is that the orange is green.
In advertising, a lot of things are sold not on truth, but on perception. If you have ever heard of the brand “Rolex”, you’ll know that it’s priced way higher than other watches, and yet people buy it. People don’t buy a “Rolex” simply because it tells time better or more accurately, but because of the perceived quality of it, by the wearer as well as people who see the wearer with the watch.
People perceive person with a Rolex as a person with success, prestige and class. In truth, it is nothing but a watch that tells time, isn’t it?
Perhaps one of the most documented things about perception in the self-help industry is the way self-perceptions (the perception of the self,) tends to be so limiting. One of the most famous stories on self-limiting perceptions is the story of Roger Bannister, the man of the four minute mile.
For years, the belief was that running a mile in four minutes was physically impossible. No one could ever do it, they (the critics) said. But they were wrong. In 1954, Bannister broke that long held belief with a time of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds — the world was stunned. Now, high-school students break that record for fun (gifted high-school students no doubt).
If you want, you can read about the story, complete with pictures: The Four Minute Mile.
For living, I would say our perception of reality is infinitely more important than reality itself. It isn’t that reality is not important, since reality is what we base our perceptions on, but that perceptions are the ones that can make reality real. When we don’t believe in something, how can it be real? Until we start believing like we can, we can’t.