“Get real!” “You’re not living in the real world.” “That’s a pipe dream that’s completely out of touch with reality!” “Your delusional flights of fancy sound good but in actual fact…” “The reality of our situation is…” “Let me give you a dose of reality.”
Anyone trying to stay positive and navigate these turbulent times is faced with responses like these. But what is reality? Is there such a thing as objective reality? Our understanding of “the real world” is ever-shifting and extremely perplexing. The nature of reality is at the heart of fierce philosophical, spiritual, and psychological debates that have raged for thousands of years. The early 20th century Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello captures the elusive concept we’re dealing with: “Whatever is a reality today, whatever you touch and believe in and that seems real for you today, is going to be – like the reality of yesterday – an illusion tomorrow.” One of his surrealistic American plays, 1927’s “Right You Are (If You Think You Are),” dealt with another age-old debate in the same realm as reality: the nature of truth.
A vast variety of today’s “facts of life” that were once considered illusory are now accepted as reality. Imagine European time-traveling engineers or scientists from around 1400 looking at our life today. How dramatically would their view of reality shift when they saw this round (not flat) earth from the moon? Imagine the array of “facts” they’d have to radically and completely alter when they saw how we travel, communicate, grow our food, treat our illnesses, light and heat our homes, or entertain ourselves. How would they return to their time and try to define reality to their 13th century contemporaries? They’d be burned at the stake for heresy or locked away as raving lunatics.
What about 600 years from now? Given how rapidly the fields of science, technology, psychology, and sociology alone are evolving, today’s “reality” will undoubtedly have altered even more dramatically in the next 600 years than in the last 600. We can’t even imagine what radical new “reality” will be accepted facts of life in the 27th century. By today’s understanding of how our world works, they would seem utterly impossible and absolutely unbelievable.
Last winter I wrote this piece for Growing @ the Speed of Change as the opening to Chapter Two on the slippery concept of reality. Since then I’ve come to believe even deeper that in the midst of the dramatic reshaping that’s taking place in our world today we need to pay close attention to what new realities are being revealed to us. And we especially need to be conscious of, and deliberate about, what reality we’re creating each day for ourselves.