Relative Perceptions of Reality?

Tracht gut, vet zein gut —Think good, and it will be good.


Hillel said in the Misnah “To understand another you have to walk in his shoes.” (Pirkei Avot)




(With respect to Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” and Lee’s potential reference, I have heard various translations of the Mishnah from “stand in his place”, to “walk in his shoes” but this is just to remind me to re-read Harper Lee’s book.  As for Billy Connely… he’s just so funny.)

Hillel said in the Talmud, “Do not do to others what is hateful to yourself. This is the heart of The Law.”(Shabbat 31a).  This all gives an ethical foundation around which I might frame difficult questions.  Otherwise I am lost.  It doesn’t mean I have found any answers.  Just means I am not swimming around in a miasma of darkness.


(Cool words, but “miasma of darkness” just means “black mud”.  Perhaps I should say “spinning about in a black endless void with no foundation”.  But I could not say it better than Nikos Kazantzakas.  More suggested readings.)

Er… I wanted to start this blog with a joke “I walk around with a t-shirt which says ‘I am surrounded by idiots’ but the people around me don’t get the joke.”


Philip K. Dick wrote a book called “A Scanner Darkly”.  I did not read the book so forgive any mistakes I make, but I did see the movie.  And this has more to do with my perceptions than it does about the reality of the movie anyway.


Keanu Reeves is an undercover cop whose job is to infiltrate a drug ring.  He gets in there and gets down and dirty with them and he reports back to his superiors about the users and the burn outs.  And in his mind he is a together person doing a job well.  But to the world around him he’s the biggest burn out of them all, and that’s the one thing he’s missed.  For all that he thought he was in control he had no control at all.  And he gets committed to a mental institution.

Basically, he thought he was living in one reality, but everybody else saw something else in him.  Was he a capable person or was there something going on outside his control that took his life completely out of his hands?

There is a story about a king and his servant.  In the kingdom the grain becomes poisoned and it turns the people insane.  There is only enough good grain in reserve for the king and his servant to eat.  So, to save the kingdom, the king and his servant decide to take the good grain so there will be two sane people who remain sane until all the crazy grain is all used up.  Then they can lead the people back to sanity.  But what happens is in the insane kingdom everybody is crazy in the same way and it is the king and his servant who seem insane.  Relativity shifts.  But the king and the servant still know they are sane because they have each other to confirm each other’s sanity.

In my apartment building I hear footsteps and banging and speaking and laughing and screaming in the walls and the floors and ceiling.  Nothing distinct, but it all sounds crazy to me.  I tell you because banging and screaming in the walls may be completely sane – because life is tough – and I may be the crazy one.  You are my witnesses.


All these questions are fun to ask and useful to think about when we are trying to figure out our relationship with others but I guess a person can get lost in these ideas – running around in circles, looking and finding no answers – unless they have an arrow pointing outwards.  And, even then, woe to us if we think we are right but have found the wrong answers.

In the Mishnah in a chapter “Fundamental Principles” (or “Principles of the Father’s” if one translates “avot=fathers” as “fundamental”) it says “Do not separate yourself from the community, and do not be sure of yourself until your day of death.” (2:5)  Surety means closure.  It means the end of questions.  I don’t really know what’s going on with the fellow on the other side of my wall.  Perhaps it is better just to keep your relationships with people open and keep asking the fundamental questions.

Which is where the arrow comes in.  Having studied history, archaeology and anthropology I see that human beings have been around for a while (although not long on a cosmological timescale) and our fundamental principles have remained fundamentally unchanged.  So I like literature asking questions about the human condition and our place in the universe which is really old.  The Bible is one.  Thousands of years of source material and commentary.  This whole idea “Think positive!” was there before.  Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (1789–1866) explained it all in this Yiddish adage, Tracht gut, vet zein gut—“Think good, and it will be good.”


(Now I have not read this but this is a reminder that I should.)

Now THIS is where it starts to get interesting.  Because:

Am I putting my own spin on things just to make them bearable?

Am I closing my eyes to the objective social reality?

Is there an objective reality?

I don’t know.  But I know I gotta walk the path.  And there’s a bit of Tao for you.  And I don’t know if it is the right path, but this path tells me I have value and other people have value and I should treat life with respect.  There still is no final destination, but at least, in my wanderings, I should treat people decently.

Peace and Love.


(This I have read.  The “bear of little brain” is my hero and we should be more like Winnie the Pooh.  I would suggest reading A. A. Milne before Hoff, though.  Just saying.)


One thought on “Relative Perceptions of Reality?

  1. Tracht gut, vet zein gut —Think good, and it will be good… I really like Yiddish. I can’t speak it but I know a few things. Another one is “Der mentsh trakht unt G-t lakht.” Man thinks/plans and G-d laughs. I tend to think this means we should not worry so much. We should relax more and be happy. Actually, they mean the same thing almost.

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