What is REAL?

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

Anais Ninwho said this, was born Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell, of French-Cuban ancestry. It’s apparent just from her naming that she would have a lot of problems, or at least a lot of choices, in the way she saw things.

Perhaps most of us feel as if we start from a simpler place, that who we are is a unified given and all we have to do is concentrate on seeing the objects around us. The world is objective for us. We just observe it and describe it (and react to it and manipulate it).

Maybe so. But I don’t think so. Maybe there is an objective “world” but if so, we can never access it. Nin is right. From the instant we “step into the picture” (as I’m doing above) we (consciously and unconsciously) determine what we see and how we see it, determine its meaning, even its existence. It’s impossible to disentangle ourselves from the world, and therefore we ineluctably create what we see.

For instance, what is this?

Unless you have spent time in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico — and even then, unless you have looked through my sensibility — I don’t think you’ll recognize it as the wall of an old church in the centro, framed by a few leaves of nearby trees, a long-boarded-up window in the center of the wall.

And then there’s this, which I photographed in the neighborhood of Colonia San Antonio, a little way outside of the centro:

Do you see a facade of an old Mission inn that’s been gentrified? Probably not, although if the camera pulled back far enough that’s just what you’d see. When we were in San Miguel for a second winter visit, I was in the grip of a passion for abstracts, and so abstracts — as I went picking my way over the cobblestones and the uneven curbs and steps — is what I saw.

So, if Nin is right, and I am right, reality is subjective, not objective. Is this a problem? If we recognize that we are always and inevitably shaping the world in our own image —  If we have the humility to recognize that only God/Ultimate Truth/Nature knows the whole picture —- No, it doesn’t have to be a problem.

But when we recognize only our own vision and our own truth, when we are adamant that only what we see and how we see it is reality, if we ABSOLUTELY KNOW that we are right and everyone else is wrong —  Then it’s a HUGE problem. Just look at any newspaper’s headlines, just watch any television news broadcast.

This is my blog post. It’s what I see from where I sit. What you read where you sit, and how you see from where you are, are different. Do we fight over those differences? Or can we allow my view, your view, to mutually enrich us? Our choice. One final photograph that I hope will gather up all these words into one single image, an image of how I see reality:

This entry was posted in Etcetera, Personal Essay, Photography, Quotes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to What is REAL?

  1. like you, I choose allow my view, your view, to mutually enrich us. It makes for a wondrous world seen, not only through my own eyes, but also through the eyes of those around me who reveal their truth reflected in their vision!


  2. mybrightlife says:

    Understanding the world this way allows for a freedom to understand things differently if needed, which could be very liberating for those struggling or stuck in a certain ‘mould’. – This does not have to be my reality.-


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Yes it does allow for the freedom you suggest (which I hadn’t really thought about), as well as many other freedoms —
      Certainly in South Africa there are many different “realities”, different views.
      On the one hand, difficult reconciliations, on the other hand, glorious possibilities!!!!
      Thanks so much for coming by, bright life —


  3. Claudia Shuster says:

    I totally agree that we each see things from our own perspective. And having and taking opportunities to expand our experiences enrich our perspective.

    Opening ourselves to seeing other points of view is crucial to becoming a thoughtful, contributing, collaborative adult.

    However, sometimes other points of view are totally unacceptable and that is when the S- – T hits the fan (I know there must be a better way to say this in the King’s English…). If we are not ready to stand up and be counted when we believe a point of view is harmful (as in Romney’s recent description of his bullying behavior in high school as a “prank”.), then, I believe, we allow that unacceptable viewpoint to be seen as acceptable…. – Claudia


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Presenting our firm point of view that something is unacceptable is part of presenting our reality. If our case is strong, and the other party is at all open, minds may be changed, or stretched, or enlarged. Or maybe even just cracked open a little bit? These polarized days, even a little crack would be an achievement.

      I’ll never forget my first freshman rhetoric teaching seminar, where I heard the jingle: A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.
      This, in my experience, is true. So there has to be compelling and persuasive evidence going on not merely to overwhelm another, but rather to make them actually open their eyes and their mind.


  4. reb says:

    I exist [I think], and what I see now — your blog — is my reality right now. Not anybody else’s. This is not a problem for me, and I totally agree with what you said about the newscasts et cetera.
    Whether this is an objective world is certainly food for thought. You, stepping in to the picture … that was such a well thought-out photo!


  5. Patti Kuche says:

    You raise so many fascinating points and while we think we see some realities so clearly our interpretations of such are sometimes slightly out of focus, depending upon circumstances and situations.
    Judith, I am always grateful that you sit where you do, offering us so many wonderful views and sensibilities, abstract and otherwise!


    • Touch2Touch says:

      It’s a little scary how often our own reality can be just that little bit out of focus, and we don’t have a clue that it is!

      One of the most useful things my therapist told me (repeatedly!) was to stop myself when I was leaping wildly at conclusions or taking off on an emotional rant, and ask myself, “What’s going on here?”
      Not that I could see the situation all at once, let alone clearly — but I at least was warned that I WASN’T seeing clearly, that there is always more and other that one needs to be aware of.


  6. Your world may not be my world but let us exist in harmony as our concentric thoughts touch for a brief moment in time. What is real? So often all is an illusion brought to us as real. Can I be objective? then I would have to ask what is objectivity? We all see what we choose to see as you wrote so beautifully.
    Good thoughts in your blog as well as the comments.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Thank you for coming by and commenting so thoughtfully, Linda.

      One quibble: I don’t think people CHOOSE what they see, I think we all truly believe we are seeing exactly what is there. If our biases and viewpoints were conscious, deliberate and a matter of choice — they would be less treacherous. Because (I believe) the process is mainly unconscious or subconscious, it’s very hard to make people aware of any distortions they may have.

      A complicated subject! But exciting to think so many of us are willing to grapple with it —


      • mybrightlife says:

        And so important to share with our children while they are still young and open to ideas. I read a quote by Frederick Douglass – “It is easier to build strong children Than to repair broken men.” Understanding that your way is not the only possible reality/way and learning to step back and ask, “what is going on here?” as your wise therapist suggested could help dramatically with building a ‘healthier world’. As always your posts have us all thinking really hard Judith. Thank you. Gill


  7. Jo Bryant says:

    A great and insightful post. For many years i believed that to be right i had to convince anyone of a differing opinion that they were wrong. Otherwise I was wrong and that could not be. It was a wonderful moment when I realised that maybe each of us held some truth and I could continue with my truths without another’s taking away from them.


  8. pauline says:

    There’s an interesting article here: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/07/11/how_facts_backfire/ that talks about how facts don’t necessarily help people see things differently. We tend to cling to our own views; we do indeed see things the way we are. Thoughtful, thought-provoking post, J.


  9. Pingback: Nin 01 « notes from a nomadic mind

  10. 2e0mca says:

    A fascinating post Judith. I wouldn’t have got the Where of your first ‘What is this’ but I read the rest of it correctly. Fully take the point when applied to the second image through the hole in the wall.

    Your own reality is subjective purely because it is a persona you build from childhood throughout your life. For some people it is a subjugated reaction to the peer pressures of those around – for others they form their own persona outside of those pressures and ride the storm of disapproval because everyone is supposed to fit into the pigeonholes created by the majority. And, of course there is the various shades of the middle road where much horse trading goes on to achieve a balance of acceptance.

    I suspect I may have wandered away from the essence of your post Judith, but then I have always been a cat that walks alone 🙂


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Not so far away perhaps, Martin.
      I have always FELT like the cat walking alone — but that always felt lonely and outside and less than, and I expended much energy trying to join the others inside. Of course it would have meant abandoning myself, but I would have been only too happy for the tradeoff. Fortunately (as it now appears) it simply didn’t work.
      Perhaps because of all this, I enormously admire the cats who walk alone, and do so proudly and with confidence.
      However, to my belief, even those capable cats see reality subjectively — because in the end that is all we CAN see, through our own eyes and experiences. Salvation comes with the strength to admit the possibility of other realities — something it is clear from your blog that you are ready and willing to do.
      Thank you for a thought-provoking comment, I really appreciate and enjoy it.


  11. It’s like…if I say, “think of a dog”…some will picture a poodle, some a st. bernard. We all mean the same thing – “dog” – but how we interpret that is based on our own personal experience. (Me? I always think of this little long-haired miniature dashchund named Dunderbeck, who lived and worked with my very first boss.)


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