“The belief that one’s own view of reality is the only reality is the most dangerous of all delusions.” Paul Watzlawick, 1976. From Forward to How Real is Real.
George Carlin put it like this: When you are driving behind a slow person who you want to pass, they are an asshole. When someone behind you tries to pass you, they are a maniac.
We laugh—because it’s true; we see ourselves. In this case it’s especially embarrassing (even idiotic) that we believe we are right, whatever our position. And it does nothing to help us get along or understand our lover or our neighbor.
As the old AA saying goes: Would you rather be right, or in relationship?
Multiple versions of reality, some contradictory, all are the result of divergent experiences and communication processes, none a reflection of an external, eternal, objective truth.
Whether we are talking about who said (or did) what, when and to whom in a relationship or discussing who the real villains are, truth depends upon the perceiver—both their inner atmosphere and the outer context in which they live and breathe, survive or thrive.
In my office, arguing couples often lament that they wish they had videoed a contentious conversation or event, each certain the recording would provide evidence confirming their version of the truth. Little good this has done in the world. Recent videoed events, such as police shootings in cities and parks, and “locker room conversations” on TV sets, have “proved” only this: a viewer’s conscious and unconscious bias plays an outsized role in interpreting events; it does little to establish what “actually” happened.
What does that even mean: what actually happened? Whose actually? And if it exists, does actually even matter when it comes to a human’s experience? Or to helping us get along.
Apparently not. In the current world of USA politics it troubles me.
For example, according to Public Policy Polling (PPP), a democratic polling firm, prior to Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017, the majority of Americans still had an unfavorable view of Trump and considered him unqualified to hold the nation’s highest office. This makes sense (to me) considering “the facts” I think are true: he lost the popular vote by nearly three million. Regardless, a majority of Trump supporters claim that because of his “landslide victory,” he enjoys a “mandate.” 60% of Trump voters believe (feel) there were millions of illegal ballots cast for Hillary and a huge majority feel (dream) the Russian hacking on Trump’s behalf is no big deal and only “sour grapes” for the democrats. In addition, Trump’s base firmly believes that unemployment rose (factcheck.org says it is 2.8% lower than when he took office) and the stock market fell under the Obama administration (factcheck.org says the Dow Jones more than doubled).
An article on the MaddowBlog frames it like this: “[We are] looking at a political landscape in which much of the president-elect’s core base appears to be living in an alternate reality (italics mine)”
Will the real reality please stand up?
Much has been written about the multiple factors contributing to this difference in worldview, in this relationship to “facts,” including (but not limited to) vastly different lived experiences, economic stagnation in certain sectors (for example many working poor and rural communities did “in fact” experience more unemployment under Obama), hidden injuries of class, different ideas about equality and justice for whom, near religious allegiance to vastly different sources of information, social media bubbles, fake news. The list goes on.
These different perceptions of truth and reality are making for difficult conversations, no, making it challenging to even have a conversation. The Maddow Blog: “If those engaged in a public debate have no shared reality, then there’s no common foundation to build upon, and even less to talk about?”
Am I to embrace the notion of a reality gap that insinuates my reality is correct and the other side’s is wrong, alternate or off? To put it more strongly—insane? What does this say about my core beliefs? And if I walk my talk?
The Processwork approach to conflict asks us to be deeply democratic towards all levels of a person, couple or group’s experience. In order to understand and get along with anyone, we need to be able to relate to the person’s consensus reality experience—that is, the version of facts their community consents to, as well as their non-consensus reality—their subjective or dreaming experiences including the deep beliefs and ineffable longings that drive them.
In President Barack Obama’s farewell speech he addresses these levels:
Going forward… if our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, each one of us must try to heed the advice of one of the great characters in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
For blacks and other minorities, it means tying our own struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face – the refugee, the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender American, and also the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change.
For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ‘60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; that when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment our Founders promised.
For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, Italians, and Poles. America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; they embraced this nation’s creed, and it was strengthened.
So regardless of the station we occupy; we have to try harder; to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.
Obama holds a hope, and he models it for all of us. He hopes that we can truly understand each other’s realities. Although our individual stories and struggles are different, he appears to believe that if we go underneath all of the conflict and differences, we will find our common humanity.
And then we have the basis for a conversation.
For this and many things, I love our president. And I will miss that family.
Jan Dworkin, PhD. Facilitator, Coach, Therapist, Multi-cultural educator, Awareness Cultivator, Art Dabbler. If you like my blog, please share or subscribe here.