Thursday, 7 July 2016

Reality Is What You Make It

What we see as reality is highly dependent on the stories we tell ourselves.  The right details and context can completely change how we see something.  As a writer, I find that fascinating and reversing expectations and assumptions is something I love to do in my books.

If I tell you about a man who didn't show up at his job for 3 days and was fired, most people would say that sounds fair.

But what if I tell you that man didn't show up because he was in the hospital watching over his child, who was near death after a horrible car crash?  Now most people would have sympathy and say he doesn't deserve to be fired.  People might want to donating money to help them.  There might be a social media outcry against the company and virtual attacks and protests against them.

Now what if I tell you that the car crash happened while the father was driving drunk?  The sympathy evaporates and depending on how much support had been offered, people might feel angry.  They would feel duped and want to take that out on the family.  The father would probably start to receive hate mail or death threats.  The actions of the company would entirely disappear.

The story can keep flipping back and forth as more information comes out.  What if the father didn't know he was driving drunk (ie someone spiked his drink or slipped him a drug)?  What if he swerved to avoid hitting a group of teenagers who wandered abruptly onto the road?  What if someone offered him a ride in a cab and he refused?  What if he was drinking more than usual because of something horrible that happened to him?  What if he was a chronic alcoholic?  What if he was abusive to his family?  What if he'd been horribly abused as a child?  What if the evidence of him being "drunk" came from a corrupt cop who had always hated this particular man?

This is one reason why I'm very cautious when it comes to jumping on the outrage bandwagon.  Often people are outraged before they have all the facts and they can do horrible things in the name of righteous anger.  I've learned the hard way to do my research and search for alternative explanations before indulging in wrathful actions.

The story is everything.  There are always multiple sides.  A mom might be vilified for regularly visiting her adult child in prison if he or she has been accused of something heinous, but she's still a mother who cares about her child.  A man might be a short-tempered jerk at work but that's because he stays up late nights to work at a counselling hotline.  The sullen, angry kid at school might be sleeping in the garage because his parents fight violently through the night.

Of course, it's not always a surprise twist.  Sometimes the jerk is just a jerk because he or she enjoys feeling powerful and superior.  Sometimes people are thoughtless or careless or outright stupid.  But we can't know until we understand the whole story.

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