Sometimes, reality is harsh. Reality can also be stark. Your own perceptions may even define whatever you deem reality to be. In my experience, reality is most often gray.
Recently, I was having a conversation with a close friend and we were comparing notes on parenting and business and he made a very astute observation. He noted that social media leads us to believe that reality is absolute and extreme.
Somebody who is out having dinner posts a picture and wants everyone to know that they are having the greatest dinner ever created. A parent takes a video of their child doing something around the house and it is shared as the funniest thing a kid has ever done. The weather forecast doesn’t just predict that a storm is coming, it is going to be the mother of all storms. Harmless? Maybe not.
What about the kid who happens to be caught on film in an embarrassing moment that spreads across the digital universe because somebody happened to be right there with their phone and an app? We all have embarrassing moments. I do several times a day, but this person had the misfortune of having his moment caught on video and now he will be forever labeled as the goof in the viral video for all to see.
Whether it is implicit, such as the “we’re all out having a good time” post that you are not included on or explicit, such as the “you’re not one of us unless you are wearing these shoes” post, the social media version of reality is absolute and extreme.
You are either popular or not. You are a republican or a democrat. You are wealthy or poor. You’re either in or out. You are having the most fun doing the greatest things ever or you are by yourself doing nothing.
How about reality tv? Does anyone ever wonder how real or spontaneous something could be if it is happening in front of a camera crew? Are people really surviving in the wilderness when they are surrounded by a television production company? Do people genuinely fall in love in front of an audience? C’mon, let’s get real.
Very rarely is reality absolute and in no way is reality as it is portrayed in these examples, however, this is not a commentary on the evils of social media. The fact that reality is gray is a good thing and cause for optimism.
Most of life takes place in the middle. Some of the excitement comes into play when you do experience an extreme moment, but if you only live when those moments occur, you are going to spend an awful lot of time waiting around and missing out.
Accepting that absolutes and extremes are rare and not representative of reality allows for you to also accept that not everything is exactly as it may appear. Perhaps someone who you thought was rotten has some good qualities after all. Maybe the real world that you reside in isn’t as far away from everyone else’s reality after all.
Absolutes divide us. Think about what it would be like if you just concentrated on who you are and what you think without the burden of being labeled and categorized. What would it be like if we stripped out the politics of politics?
I would be willing to bet that if we all sat down and answered topical questions without being led to believe that our answers would define us as necessarily being a republican or a democrat, we all would be surprised at how undivided we are. How many of you want to have clean air to breathe and fresh water to drink? Does anyone object to that objective? Is crime a good thing or a bad thing for your neighborhood? How about quality education? Anybody against it?
Is it possible that if you are not obsessed with what you perceive others are doing, you may concentrate more on what you are doing? Do you think that if you realized you have more in common with your neighbor than what you initially thought, you might be more inclined to strike up a conversation?
Extremes are not inviting and there isn’t a lot of room for people where they exist. No one, except for Santa, lives at the north or south pole. The weather is harsh, and the environs do not lend themselves to sustainable human life as we know it.
There is, however, plenty of room in the middle. It is neither too hot nor too cold. Unique qualities are admired not scorned. Alternate views are debated not met with contempt.
Extremes and absolutes promote closed minds and hatred for all, but the few who think and act and judge as the other extremists do. The proliferation of these extreme views leads to a cancellation of each other and the expression of creativity and new ideas.
I don’t always remember how gray things really are. On occasion, I will absolutely label someone who cuts me off in traffic as a *&@x!*+&#%!!! I don’t always welcome disagreement with something that I strongly believe in. I am not always in a good mood and I have yet to live a day without finding something that I could be better at.
Overall, however, I prefer to be curious, ask questions, seek opinions, and to collaborate with those who want to share their thoughts. I do try to put myself in other people’s positions and to appreciate alternate perspectives. I have certainly realized that, over time, I have learned far more from someone who had a different take or a more well-rounded approach than the one I would have stated or employed.
Lastly, you might be asking yourself if it is gray or grey. The truth is…it’s both. Gray is the more commonly used American version and grey is more commonly used in Great Britain. It makes no difference to me and, however it is spelled, it is the color or colour I prefer for my reality.
This article is part of Scott Arney's educational series, entitled The Serial Decision Maker.