I read a quote on Twitter the other day that said “There are around seven billion different versions of reality” and that really got me thinking.
I work from the same computer in the same workspace in the same city on most days. It’s likely that you have a similar work routine.
From time to time I go travelling. Maybe it’s something as small as a weekend away in a city just a short journey away or something more extensive like a two-week stay in a country with a completely different culture to the norm. It’s likely that you have similar travel experiences.
I read books that you might have read, others that you haven’t. You have read books that I’ve read, others that I haven’t. You saw this thing on the news yesterday that I didn’t. I saw this act of kindness in the street near me that you didn’t. You experienced a familiar joy before reading this, I didn’t.
It is so easy to forget that we are all living completely different versions of reality. The lens that you wear is how you see the world, and it is shaped by your own experiences and personality. It is a strong argument that nobody sees one thing – whether it be an object or an idea or a person – exactly the same as another person does.
Anthony de Mello is one of the best articulators of this concept and these examples come from his book Awareness:
You look at the trees and the mountains through windows that are wet with rain from a storm, and everything looks blurred and shapeless. You want to go right out there and change those trees, change those mountains. Wait a minute, let’s examine your window. When the storm ceases and the rain stops, and you look out the window, you say, “Well, how different everything looks.” We see people and things not as they are, but as we are. That is why when two people look at something or someone, you get two different reactions.
Think of some people you’re living with whom you want to change. You find them moody, inconsiderate, unreliable, treacherous, or whatever. But when you are different, they’ll be different. That’s an infallible and miraculous cure. The day you are different, they will become different. And you will see them differently, too. Someone who seemed terrifying will now seem frightened. Someone who seemed rude will seem frightened.
We see people and things not as they are, but as we are. All of our judgements, preconceptions and experiences are reflections of who we are as people. This is why, even when we’ve experienced the same events as other individuals, we never construct identical narratives: the criteria used for selecting moments are different for each of us, and a reflection of our personalities.
If you want to change the world and its contents, it’s wise to start by changing yourself first.