Speak Into Their reality

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We each live in our own reality.

To many, this statement sounds absurd. Of course, we are in the same reality. The world, people and interactions are the same for all of us. But the truth is that we all live in our heads. What happens there is all that exists to us. And what is in our heads is a combination of what actually happens in the “real world” and, to a much greater degree, how we interpret what happens.

Here are a few (hugely oversimplified) examples of what this means and why it is important.

Abortion

Both “sides” of the abortion debate are certain they are right. The facts are on their side! The other side is a bunch of idiots that they don’t get it!

Part of this discrepancy, though, is a failure to understand and speak into the other person’s reality.

If you believe what is happening is killing a child, then few if any of the pro-choice arguments carry weight. Simply saying, “My body. My choice!” doesn’t make sense because there is a child involved that is being ignored.

If you feel what is happening is removing a clump of cells, few if any, of the pro-life arguments, carry weight. Simply screaming “Murder!” makes no sense since you can’t murder a tumor. It doesn’t apply to the reality of the pro-choice person.

Religion

Another great example is religion.

If you are a Christian, saying “The Bible says…” means something. If you are an atheist or non-Bible-believer, saying “The bible says” is akin to saying, “Odin commanded!” Most people would agree following Odin makes absolutely no sense.

But if you try to tell a Bible-believer that the Bible means nothing, you will get nowhere. The Bible is, in the believer’s mind, the inspired Word of God.

This is An Incredibly Profound Realization

This difference, in reality, explains why so many of our difficult conversations these days go nowhere. When we talk about our own personal reality, we can’t reach others. We must speak into the reality where the person with whom your speaking exists.

The response to this idea is often “Well, THEY should speak into my reality” or “Who should bend?” The reality is that the person of good heart and good faith who want to make an impact, need to lead. You may or may not know how to speak into their reality. Realize, however, that if you can’t speak into their reality, the conversation is probably not worth having as it will go nowhere.

After all who is going to listen to you if you talk about what Odin commanded?

NOTE: I first heard this idea from a lady who spoke at my alma mater, Gettysburg College. She spoke at something related to graduation at a year after mine. I checked with the school and no one remembered anything like this. So, I either dreamed that she spoke there, or I’d love it if someone could help me identify who she was :D

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Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.

Thank you for sharing this piece, Michael. It’s an important discussion to have – especially when our country seems so divided on so many issues. One concept that I’ve found valuable as it relates to “speaking to someone’s reality” is called intellectual humility. It plays into the idea that, because of confirmation bias (which we all have to some degree), it’s difficult to seek out views in opposition to our own. Our natural tendency is to look for evidence to support that which we believe to be true.

Intellectual humility is recognizing intellectual limitations and not only being open to the possibility of being wrong, but also searching for new sources of evidence to disprove one’s position. If intellectual humility is a mean between extremes, then closed-mindedness and intellectual arrogance would be on one side and insecurity or intellectual cowardice on the other.

I shared a video on this topic here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgONnYF0iVI&t=3s

Thank you for a great perspective!

Michael Barnes
Michael Barnes

Certainly a variety of concepts and ways to consider this topic. Thanks for a couple other options.

David B. Grinberg

Interesting read, Michael. Yes, people see things through their own narrow lens as filtered by the media they consume, which often leads to confirmation bias. That’s why I make sure to consume a diversity of news from media sources on the right and left to gain a better understanding of the issues from all sides. One of my favorite quotes is from Socrates: “All I know is that I know nothing.” How’s that for a taste of reality…