Is there a common reality? I am revisiting a piece of a former blog because I think we all live in different realities based on our “perceptual filters”.
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?
Hillel says in Pirkei Avot (Wisdom of the Fathers) that to understand another, to feel compassion, you have to “stand in their shoes”. In a discussion with someone recently they suggested that that type of compassion is impossible, because you can’t “be” someone else.
I think, at some level, it is true that we cannot fully share or understand another person’s life experience. I believe that when we look at another what we are looking at is a reflection of ourselves, our own hopes and fears are projected on this person before us, and that is what we understand. We cannot comprehend or even see something that is outside ourselves.
We define “the other” by projecting our fears onto that which we cannot understand. We create monsters because we do not want to understand the monster within ourselves. By projecting the worst of ourselves onto someone else we turn that person into a “scape-goat” for our own fears and sins. Yeah, compassion is hard because we have to look hard at ourselves as well as the person across from us (who is homeless and lonely and inappropriate) and realize that, at a human and a spiritual level, we are both the same person.
THAT is our common reality.