Reality becomes a toxic mess
by Stacey Warde
Much of what we believe—whether online, in social media, politics, family gatherings, travels, among friends or sitting alone on the toilet—is colored by our own peculiar blindness.
Nothing is quite what it seems. We make up worlds of our own, hoping they will survive the onslaught of life and reality. We build castles in the sand and, in time, they all come crashing down on our heads.
The world is much different from what we imagine, or claim, or fight and argue over, through all of our personal filters and belief systems. The way the world is and the way we see it are not the same—definitely not when rigged by our religious, political or personal beliefs.
All that, of course, can lead to discord with others, especially those who do not share these beliefs.
It’s hard enough to find agreement on simple things like what color the sky is, or the grass. But, unless delusional, contrary, or hurt in some way, no one would claim the sky is brown, not a clear sky anyway. One might say the grass is brown but that, at least, is debatable.
You can believe whatever you want, and I can do likewise, but that doesn’t make any of it true, or move us closer to agreement, and definitely won’t help us accomplish much.
Finding common ground with others can be a challenge simply by virtue of the fact that we all see things differently. Still, we try to connect, build tribes and communities. To do so, we find healthy ways to talk, disagree and grapple with our common interests without diminishing or destroying one another.
We find common ground through observation and reflection and conversation. Common ground is the place where ideas and action take shape because we can agree on something, even if we don’t share the same beliefs. We don’t have to believe the same thing to agree on simple, observable facts and from those accomplish amazing things.
It takes a civil society, able to reason, to make good things happen, not one that stays blindly devoted to fanciful beliefs and false ideas, which in turn encourage malignant behaviors and purposes. A civil society doesn’t scuttle facts to suit selfish or greedy aims, nor does it distort truths to reflect a reality of one’s own making. A civil society fosters reasoned discourse. When facts don’t matter, reason quickly slips away from the discourse and society collapses into discord and rancor.
When facts don’t matter, we risk falling into the dangerous habit of turning reality into a slippery unmanageable mess, a hazardous wasteland, in which we ignore truth, blind to observable phenomena, creating chaos and leaving scars everywhere we go, crashing and burning, making fools of ourselves.
When facts don’t matter, we have nothing to discuss. What matters is who can be the most brutal and the most clever, promoting lies and propaganda, claiming exclusive rights and privileges, including the right to violate and harm others.
When facts don’t matter, only two possibilities arise, it’s your way or my way.
Facts don’t matter when we cling to shrouds of prejudice, ignorance, and damaged egos. These shrouds—filters against reality—keep us from seeing clearly, the faces of others become threatening, and we embark on a path of destruction.
We inherited these shrouds from well-meaning but ill-informed elders, or we developed them as defenses to protect ourselves against brutes, or they were cultural standards we embraced that proved in the end to do more harm than good.
We maintain these shrouds through a stubborn refusal to accept things as they are, by seeing the world in only one way, the Archie Bunker way. “This is the way the world is…” Never to let ourselves see through the eyes of another, choosing in fact to scorn, mock or obliterate that person or that person’s vision. Lastly, we join others who share these views, complete falsehoods, clinging precariously to fictions we hope will protect us from ideas and truths and people we don’t like.
If we are to live peaceably, however, we have to find ground upon which we can agree, ground we share in common. The most basic common ground would be facts, observable phenomena, that we agree upon, that make progress possible. Without facts, we’re more likely to impede progress by fighting over who’s right and who gets to dominate.
I know how hard this is, but also how easy, to hold back prejudices and beliefs, and take a moment to listen, to attend the pertinent information and stories that come to us, and seek the deeper, darker, loamy truths about life, and learn to confront our common difficulties in a dignified way, creating a common ground in which most, if not all, of us can thrive, the sole purpose of a worthy tribe.
I know how difficult it is to remove the filters of my own blindness. Just when I imagine that I’ve got things figured out, and think that I shall remove the final shroud to reveal the “uncorrupted truth” of all things personal, human, otherworldly or otherwise—the unfiltered core, finally!—a blight, a corruption of the mind, say, a bruised ego, a past hurt or slight, throws itself into the mix. The shadow emerges and, like a Dali painting, reality once again turns into a slippery gooey toxic thing in which I lose and risk destroying myself.
Even with the best intentions, I have to fight hard to keep a clear picture before me, to set my focus on what is actual and real rather than imagined or believed.
I cannot see the pure light or truth without the correspondence and cooperation of another. I’m as blind as you, and anything that I might say can be perceived as simple nonsense or bullshit—unless there’s some way to observe and confirm and verify. With your help only, will that become a possibility.
So do not believe me when I say that I speak for truth, or know something that you don’t, or pretend that my mind has reached the heights, and that you should come along and see things my way. But please do consider the facts. Let’s discuss and agree on those for a start, and not diminish or destroy life’s possibilities by believing in or embracing a lie.
Falsehoods, lies and treachery lead to death. Even our meagre grasp on tiny bits of truth fail to rescue us from our mortal end, tainted as they are with what is false and misleading.
“There is a way that seems right to a person but it’s end is death.” That’s true for all of us.
I’ve traveled many roads, thinking that I had chosen the best course, only to wind up lost in a pretzel of circling around and around, going nowhere but getting confused and frustrated and angry, making a fool of myself, injuring others, my life spinning furiously out of control. Fortunately, I’ve had friends, family and a tribe to bring me back.
Have you heard of “death by GPS”? That’s where you get stranded in the desert and die because you trusted your cellphone’s map application more than your common sense and ability to observe facts and make well-informed choices. Through a failure of technology and belief, you observe the wrong data, believe a lie, make a bad decision, and get lost and die. It happens, even when your intentions are good.
The most well-meaning, the earthiest and most righteous among us, are prone to lose their way and stumble, missing the path that leads to a better, more secure life, if such a thing is possible. We end up in deep shit as much as as in the golden beam of bliss, all the more reason to enlist the support of our tribe and community, even those whose beliefs do not match our own.
Fortunately, my tribe and community have kept me on course, challenging me to maintain a clear vision, to think correctly and reason from a place of wisdom and strength rather than from foolhardy and fantastical versions of reality based on my prejudices and blindness.
To thrive and advance, we need a tribe and a common ground, a landscape observable by all, out of which come shared ideas, stories and practices that move us forward, where facts matter and can make all the difference in whether we live or die. §