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?