Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Subjective Reality Is Real

Imagine that a new clothing store just opened in town. Your friend goes to check it out, but comes back disappointed that "Everything in the store is pink." Another friend, who loves pink, hears this news and rushes out to go shopping, only to return and say, "What are you talking about? There's nothing pink in that store!" So what's the truth? Which one of your friends is right?

Answer: They're both right; they are each describing their own subjective reality. Yes, there is an actual count of pink items at the store, but what we perceive at first glance is a subjective reality, or reality as it relates to us. So let's say that 40 percent of the clothing items at the store are pink.  Someone who hates pink might feel that pink has taken over the store, but someone who loves pink might feel like they don't have enough options.  Neither person is wrong - they're just perceiving the store as it relates to them.

I started noticing this type of difference a lot when I went to college.  A lot of my classmates said that we didn't have enough intellectual conversations or discussions about important topics, but I had a hard time bringing up the personal things I wanted to talk about because everyone always seemed to be talking about some bigger issue. I was bored through so many conversations about the economy.  I had a hard time finding people who just wanted to talk about fun and personal things. When people brought up this issue, I always wanted to ask, "Who are you hanging out with?"

My classmates said that no one liked to go to discussion groups, when everyone around me was going to discussion groups all the time and pressuring me to do the same. My classmates also said that most students didn't like to participate in class, when in most of my classes, I was the only student - or one of a few - who didn't participate. Some of my classmates said that students at my college were very attached to home and their parents, when I was often the only person in a group who was unwilling to go someplace other than home during vacations, who still felt homesick in my final year. The list goes on and on, and I would get really frustrated, thinking, "Are we on the same campus? Where are these people?  Because I'd really like to meet them!"

Studies have shown that when asked to estimate the distance to a point, students wearing backpacks estimate longer distances than students without backpacks.  Why?  Because most of us perceive distance based on the effort it will take us to get there, and it takes more effort to walk when you carry a backpack. Of course there is an actual measurement of the distance, but the fact that the distance is shorter for some people and longer for others - that's reality too!  Think of how we measure distance in minutes instead of miles. There isn't one reality - there are lots of realities.  Everyone has their own.

ALL of our issues are real, even when they contradict each other, because what's too much pink for one person is not enough for someone else.  And it doesn't matter how many pink items are actually in that new clothing store.  Even if 100 people thought the store was all pink and only one person thought that it didn't have any pink, that one person is still right, because it wasn't pink enough for them.  And  until you've been to that store, you shouldn't base your own judgement on the fact that it was too pink for 100 people - you should base it on how much you like pink.  Because it could be that those 100 people don't like pink as much as you do.  Subjective reality is reality, and everyone's reality is real.

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