A Meditation on Something I Heard the Other Day


By Troy Headrick

On Friday, October 11th, I attended a professional development workshop at the college where I’m employed.  The title of the session was “Communication Skills for Collaboration.”  Looking back, I don’t think the title gave an apt preview of what the talk would cover.  Plus, the title was boring; whereas, the actually workshop was quite interesting.

During the early moments of the presentation, the presenter began with the idea that we bring many preconceived ideas to any act of communication.  For example, if I think the person I’m about to interact with is someone not to be trusted, then I’m apt to enter into the communicative situation already wary or prejudiced against the speaker.  On the other hand, if I like and respect the person I’m about to talk with, it is quite likely that I will have a positive communicative experience when I speak with him or her.  Thus, we impose our own “reality” on those around us.

About fifteen or so minutes into the workshop, the facilitator said something that I decided to write down. I did so because I wanted to spend a bit of time pondering the thing.  She said, “We tend to see the world the way we want it to be, not the way it is.”  Again, the idea is that we often create our own “reality” which ends up having a profound impact on how we relate to others, how we see the world, how we view ourselves in relation to others, and so on.

For the remainder of this piece, I want to explore this idea.  And I have no idea where this exploration will take me.

This quote means that we never really see things objectively.  Is there such a thing as objective reality?

What does this mean for me, that I see what I want to see, not what’s there?  By the way, what do I want to see when I look at the world?

This is a complicated question, and I think it might be complicated for many.  On the one hand, I want to see a world that makes sense, where rational people behave rationally, where goodness prevails over evil, where truth is something to be revered, where all should be treated with dignity and respect.    Because we’ve all suffered and know what that’s like, I want to believe that we all have empathy for those who suffer.  When we look out and see the less fortunate, our hearts grow heavy and we think, “There but by the grace of god go I.”  In other words, I would like to believe that all human beings are basically good.

I want to believe that there are good people still left in this world, that money and self-interest, though they exist, haven’t trumped all.  In fact, I see acts of kindness everywhere.  I have been the recipient of many such acts.  During difficult times, I have collaborated with others, I have peered into their eyes and seen a look that proves all kindness and decency isn’t dead and gone.

Now comes the difficult part. If the speaker at my professional development workshop was right, then I am seeing what I want to see and not the way the world really is.  So what does this mean for humanity and the world going forward?  Does this mean that goodness and kindness and love are illusions?    Maybe I’m too much of a romanticist, too much a dreamer, too gullible, too much an idealist?

I certainly hope that I’m not.  But I’ve been wrong about myself before.

Then again, look at how human beings treat each other.  Look at how easily we hurt and exploit and kill.  Surely, if homo sapiens have it within themselves to evolve, to act in ways that manifest real goodness, such atrocities and acts of injustice would have long ago faded away.

Again, like I said earlier, I had no idea where this blog would eventually end up.  And I’m not for sure it’s even gone to a place that remotely looks like a conclusion.

Do you have any reactions you’d like to share?  Why don’t we start a conversation?

Troy’s personal blog can be found here.



41 thoughts on “A Meditation on Something I Heard the Other Day

  1. This is why real conversation is so difficult. We can have many surface level talks but to truly talk to one another we have to intuitively understand the other people and this is extremely rare.

    1. I agree. Communication is so complicated. Because we bring preconceived notions to any act of communication–feelings about the person we’re about to communicate with and expectations about how things are going to unfold–we don’t know if we’re sort of sabotaging the communication before it even begins. Thanks very much for your comment.

  2. So this “professional speaker” did she explain what she meant by “We tend to see the world the way we want it to be, not the way it is.”?
    Because considering the prospect with which you looked at that line, and me having a different view altogether, I’d like to know what her explanation was based on.

    You made a great point of view right there. Seeing miseries in the world we live in and choosing to find the good aspect of it. I understand what you’re saying is that because you think you’ve seen the act of kindness among the living, even though you know that the world is full of evil, that maybe what this woman was saying is that you see kindness because that’s what you want to see, but that the reality is people are awful.

    Well, I look at it this way: I tend to look at the world as a place where certain things should be changed, or rather get better, like in politics, marriages, schools, workplaces, hospitals. Things like letting people get what they deserve on essential status and not based on their race or gender. Like I discussed on a post I published some time ago which I titled, ” How it is, or how it should be?”

    I might be wrong, but I think what that woman meant is that we should accept the world the way it is and stop trying to make it the way we want it to be. Well, if that’s her point, then I say she’s very wrong. If the world is good enough the way it is right now, she should know that it’s due to outcome of what people wanted it to be when things had been worse than it is today. If the world is in a certain way and needs change, it is our responsibility to look at it the way it’s supposed to be and change it.
    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, “People make culture, culture does not make people.”

    1. Thank you for your very analytical, thorough, and insightful comment. Honestly, I didn’t have an opportunity to ask her what she meant. I just jotted the idea down with no intention of blogging about it. But then, seeking for a topic, her comment came back to me. My intention (as my title suggests) was just to explore the implications of her comment. If what she says is true–that we are incapable of seeing reality because of our various biases–then what does that mean for me when I look at the world and the humans who inhabit it? My piece, quite admittedly, is a kind of “thought experiment.” I didn’t know where it would go once I started it and I’m not for sure that it went anywhere after finishing it and looking back at what I’d written. By the way, I totally agree when you say we have a responsibility to be ACTIVELY engaged in making the world a nicer place. And I totally appreciate the Adichie quote. By the way, you alluded to a piece you’ve written. Why not post a link to it here so we can check it out?

      1. Thank you.
        I’d like to follow up your writings too, but I couldn’t get an easy access to your site, so I “requested for an invitation”.

      2. Hi. I actually only have one site. I don’t have a secret site. There’s a link to my personal blog at the end of each of my Pointless Overthinking pieces.

  3. I enjoyed reading this piece. It puts my current season in perspective. I’m living in an area where I’m building friendships and community. It’s easy to immediately, at first impression, make a judgement about a person. Then later on down the line realize I was completely wrong about them or vise versa. My thought process parallels to what you asked or rather ponder in your article. Is there a reality that I’ve made up in my mind that is vastly different to what I am experiencing? Am I allowing time and space to run its course in the exchange between me and another person? How do I make time breathe in my interactions before jumping to conclusions or rather judgements? Much to think about, thank you for sharing!

    1. And your comment has given me much to think about too! Thank you for making such a thoughtful contribution. I guess that’s sort of a classic philosophical question: Is there any such thing as “reality” or am I simply constructing one in my head? I tend not to believe in objective reality. I think we mostly construct one. But, then again, as I indicated in my piece, I’m not for sure about any of this. I guess that’s sort of me in a nutshell. I’m always skeptical. Always doubtful. Always a kind of contrarian. Always asking questions and then doubting the answers I come up with. Again, thank you for you comments. I’m going to need to spend a little time rereading what you’ve written and letting it mellow in my mind.

  4. Hello,

    My tiny two bits:)

    “Does this mean that goodness and kindness and love are illusions?”

    No. That which can be felt is never an illusion.

    Maybe I’m too much of a romanticist, too much a dreamer, too gullible, too much an idealist?”

    So what if you are. Nothing is too much. The world needs you just like the world needs ultra left brained people who want to box and compartmentalise everything. The Yin to the Yang.


    1. Thanks for leaving such a positive and hopeful comment! By the way, your “two bits” aren’t tiny at all. In fact, I think you’ve given me much to think about (and you wrote far fewer words than I did in my piece). By the way, do you blog? If so, I’d like to read some of your writing. why not post a link here so that I (and interested others) can check our your site?

  5. I think there are at least three truths. Say you dislike a film because it is too violent, that is your subjective truth, but no less a truth.
    However, the film may, in fact, be a good creative piece of work that receives much acclaim. That is the objective truth, but no less a truth.
    Ideally, we should have a good relationship between the subjective and the objective. In other words, we should be able to understand both positions. And ideally, there should not be too much of a gap between the two.
    A universal truth should be something that is not up for debate. For example, that we should love and respect our fellow man should not be a matter for discussion.
    As you mention in your article, some people mould the world to suit themselves. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. For example, it may be a way of coping and completely benign. But it could also be a way of getting what you want regardless of the hurt you cause others. But whichever it is, it is not the truth in any sense of the word.
    An interesting subject though!

    1. And your comment is equally interesting (and you needed far fewer words than I did)! I love your analysis of subjective truth versus objective truth. As I mentioned in my title, I really had no idea where the blog was going to go once I started it, and thus I called it a “meditation.” (Actually, I’m not sure that it went anywhere but who’s to say that a “think piece” has to find a destination?) Again, I like your way of categorizing different kinds of truths. (Some would argue that it’s impossible for TRUTH to take different forms.) At any rate, I very much appreciate your thoughtful comment. By the way, do you blog? If so, I’d like to read some of your writing. Why not post a link here so that I (and others) can check it out?

  6. There is a similar debate in linguistics. There is the idea that nothing we say is a fact, meaning an objective statement. Rather, everything is filtered via our minds.
    This is a hard question. My take is that even if kindness and goodness are illusions (as are badness and cruelty), if more people have these illusions, more people will be happy. Even if it is not a fact.

    1. I totally agree. If we are all destined to live our lives rules by illusions, one would hope that these illusions be “nice” ones. It is a little unnerving to realize how little we know about anything since our knowledge is based upon very limited and imperfect observations and that we know those things we are seeing are shaped by all sorts of things that predate the moment we make these observations. The way we see things is shaped by our culture, by our upbringing, by our past traumatic experiences, by the lessons we learned from our families, by our past relationships with others, by our educational backgrounds, and on and on and on. This means everything we see and think about ourselves and others is conditioned by our entire personal history. Again, like many have said, there’s a lot to ponder here.

      1. Also, that’s what makes the human experience so scary. We think some people hate us but that’s just an idea we project on them. Or, some love us but we are unable to recognize this love because we are preconditioned to believe they care nothing for us. How many times have we lost opportunities to connect with others because we didn’t see that connecting was the way to go? How many times have we misread other people because we couldn’t read the signals they were sending out to us?

      2. Well, I cannot argue against that. We don’t know how to deal with this diversity as of yet. Will we learn one day? I don’t know. But I want to believe that it does more good than harm, even now.

  7. From just up the road from you, I’d say my truth and your truth may not be the same, nor do they have to be contrary. You may find pumpkin pie the best things on the plant, and I don’t. Doesn’t make either of us wrong, or opposing. When it comes to acts of kindness or evil – there’s so much more going on. What’s the line from “Grosse Point Blank’?
    “People in civilized societies DON’T kill each other!”
    “Well, it depends on the civilizations…”

    My take away on this is if you’re looking for acts of kindness, you see them. If you’re looking for acts of tragedy, you see them. Is the blind woman with a cane, pulling a stroller so her grandchild can go for a walk a tragedy or an act of love? Is she herself making the most of her life, or someone to be pitied? I don’t think it’s ever that polarized, but it’s worth considering the choices we want to see around us.

    1. I so agree with you. That’s one of the reasons I called my piece a “meditation” and mentioned that I had no idea where I would end up while writing it or if it would even come to any sort of point that one might call a “conclusion.” I guess I was mostly doing a kind of stream-of-consciousness “thought experiment” (or something along those lines). By the way, as you said, so much about life is hard to understand. So much about life and how we should live it is murky. We muddle along. We ponder. We speculate. We make educated (and uneducated) guesses. We do the best we can do and still almost nothing makes sense. Thanks, again, Liz!

  8. I am glad to see your awareness – as you applied a counter propositional logic. Clearly, you are not a listen-and-follow type of person, that is appreciable, one of the necessary traits of leaders in contrast to followers.

    I doubt the intentions of the professional speech, not sure of its background – the session seemed to be a half-talk, that is often a counselling technique used to pacify rising questions of protest in any formal sector.

    But, the talk is not fully disposable. To answer your question, we need the full-talk, filling the rest half by 😀.

      1. Oh, it’s not just a pingback. My comment to your questions of this (and previous) post became so large and newfound that I was tempted to format it for a full article on my blog.

        So, THANKS to YOU !

        Was so excited and inspired, that I posted outside my recent blogging periodicity, mainly for you. (Yes, sometimes I get awkwardly emotional ! 😊)

        You are welcome.

  9. I totally relate with the post. To some extent I agree with the speaker that often we see the world as we want to see it, instead of being rational and realistic. But then what is reality? I trust very easily and my trust has been broken many times but still considering how easily I trust, I believe it has been held more than broken. Goodness and evil are both sides of one coin, both exist parallelly. We cannot ignore either. One definitely has to be vigilant and try to make sense of things. There is no place for a fool. But I believe, there is still more goodness than evil, that’s why the world is still existing. That’s how I see it . Am I wrong?

    1. You don’t sound wrong to me. Actually, I intended my piece to be highly speculative and thus that’s the reason I included “A Meditation” in my title. I’ve long been intrigued by the concept of “reality.” If everything that we can ever know and experience comes to us through our senses and then all that’s filtered through our individual biases and whatnot, how do we really know what’s TRULY going on? Of course, all this is highly philosophical (and, again, speculative). At any rate, I truly appreciate your very thoughtful and articulate comment. I hope to hear from you again in the future and will certainly check out your blog if you write one.

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