The Reality of Reality

Reality is a funny thing. Sometimes I hear people talk and they might say something that sounds like this, “She’s a funny one that one. She lives in her own world.” It makes me chuckle every time I hear something similar being said. The truth is, we all live in our own worlds. We just think that other people do too.

Many of us assume that how we experience life, how we see the world and how we operate in it is the same way other people do. The reality is, reality only exists in an individual’s mind. There is no universal reality—only individual ones. There are universal laws, but no universal reality.

In my reality, I can do anything I put my mind to.

When I was 15, I believed I could write in another language that is not my native tongue and be excellent in it. In other people’s reality, they think it wasn’t possible—until I proved them wrong. I won my first award writing short fiction in Malay—a language that is not my own—when I was 16 and went on to win two more awards after that, all before I was 23. My stories got published in five anthologies, one of which was translated into English for international publication. This proves my point that it doesn’t matter what other people’s realities are, what matters is your own.

300 years ago, mankind’s reality did not involve defying the law of gravity. Now, we don’t even think twice about it when we enter an elevator and push a button that takes us to the 30th floor of a building.

100 years ago, going to outer space was considered a ridiculous idea. Now space travelling is being commercialized for civilians like you and I.

Reality is a fickle thing. It really is. It can change at any time and it often does.

Almost two weeks ago, a friend of mine had a party for her daughter’s third birthday. I found out about it after the fact through some pictures posted on Facebook. It was on a farm and the birthday girl seemed suitably happy during the occasion. It didn’t bother me that I wasn’t invited. What really made me think was how they had gone to great lengths to conceal it from me.

I remember having a phone conversation to another friend on the little girl’s birthday during the week, reminding her that the little one was turning three that day. Her response was, “Oh, is it?” And then on the day of the party itself, I had texted her to ask if she had time to go for a coffee. She replied saying that she couldn’t, she was at a kiddies’ party. When I realized after the fact that it was this little girl’s party, I was baffled. Why she had to hide it from me was beyond my comprehension. The only explanation I could come up with was that in her reality, that was probably what she would prefer someone else do. She would probably feel offended for not being invited to a party and it was just best if she didn’t know about it. What she didn’t know wouldn’t affect her. So based on her reality, she had assumed that I was the same, so she acted accordingly.

In my reality, what that all meant was she had a significant lack of faith in me being understanding about the situation. It made me realize that I had made some false assumptions about her. In my reality, I thought the fact that we have known each other for twelve years meant that she knew me better than that. Obviously, a correction of that assumption was necessary. It made me realize that we don’t often see people for who they really are, we see them based on a certain set of expectations and also our assumptions of who they are. Often those expectations and assumptions are influenced by how we ourselves would behave in certain situations. In our personal rule books, we have our own ideas about how people ‘should’ or ‘should not’ behave, and somehow we think that other people operate based on those same rules. I’m guilty of that on occasion but I do catch myself before a further lapse of judgment occurs.

That incident was something that made me think about what reality really meant. To me, it was only a party after all. The girl can invite whoever she wants. It was not a life and death situation in which I was sacrificed. If I had to feel offended for not being invited to every dinner, every movie or every celebration of some sort that all my friends have, I would be the most offended person in the world. I tried to consider different angles on why people would sweat small stuff like this. I couldn’t come up with any so I put it aside and thought nothing more about it. I corrected my own expectations and assumptions about the two women and went on with my life.

Here’s the thing about reality—perception is reality and the only reality we know is the one we are in, and this varies from one individual to the next. When we change our perception, our reality changes, and what we see changes with us. If we feel any dissident about anything—if we are frustrated, disappointed or angry that something isn’t going our way, it’s because there is a gap between our expectations of what it should be versus what it actually is. Only a truly enlightened person sees something for what it is, the rest of us see it for what we think it is. That’s just my perception of reality. What’s yours?

To reality,

Chiao Kee

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