I watched an old sitcom the other night that really got me laughing. A married couple recalled an event and disagreed about its details. There were three scenarios: his version, her version, and what really happened. It was entertaining to view from an objective seat how different perspectives altered the outcome. The show was in black and white, but its timeless subject matter could easily be an episode on Modern Family.
Leah and I have both reflected here on the importance of telling the truth in our endeavors on the page. It’s difficult enough when our intentions are to dig deep and explore why we think and act the way we do. More formidable, still, to consider that our efforts might be missing the reality mark by a long shot because we failed to see what really happened. We might have created some other tale to make things more acceptable to our desires. The scary part is that we are unaware when we are doing this. Too bad there aren’t some producers in the wings to show us the play-back of what really went down.
Ajit Varki and Danny Brower describe our denial of reality as an evolutionary asset for humans – one that allows us to maintain optimism, confidence and courage in the face of our inevitable mortality. Their book, Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind describes denial as a psychological innovation that allowed us to develop our intellects. It’s an intriguing hypothesis, which kind of lets us off the hook for delusional behaviors.
Does it really matter? What’s the big deal if we write about our perceptions of an event, and they don’t match up to what really happened? Artists are allowed, even encouraged, to embellish. Fiction is, after all, made-up stories – based on real life, but drawn from imagination. Novels are still loaded with truths about us all.
Each of us has a lens through which we see the world. It’s colored by our thoughts, beliefs, experiences, hopes and fears. No two lenses are alike, as much as we might assume they are. There isn’t much we can do to clear them of the scratches and smudges that obscure reality. We can be aware of our lenses, and make some efforts to peer through them thoughtfully. What we see is probably only part of the picture, one of several scenarios.
The best we can do is admit to ourselves that our lenses are there. We can challenge ourselves to keep them from clouding up over the years by really looking, and really listening. Our creative work demands it, and a quest for objectivity won’t dilute our message. It might even give it deeper meaning.