We see daffodils as yellow, but a bee will see them differently because they see ultra-violet light. The colour of something depends on the perceiver.
When we watch a movie in a cinema we see a story unfold, but a pigeon sitting next to us would see twenty-four photographs, one after the other, every second. Birds perceive time differently to us.
We don’t like the smell of faeces, but . . .
Two flies sit on a poo.
The other says, ‘Do you mind? I’m eating my dinner.’
Every creature creates its own reality. With its senses it selects the data it needs, and interprets that data to suit the organism it happens to be. We humans might see a tree as a source of shade, or a source of income, while a wood-grub might see it as food.
‘To a worm in a horseradish the world is horseradish.’
Humans have different realities from that of bees, pigeons and flies. Do we have different realities from each other?
We sure do. When someone says each person is unique, they are right. Yes, psychologists and advertisers find us predictable, and many of us adopt the same cultural mores and beliefs, and laugh at the same sitcom jokes . . . but dig a little deeper and we find a different story: the multiplicity of the interpretations each one of us can make of the countless diverse events we experience means we really are unique. We are so different from one another that we are like remote islands barely explored, in a vast sea.
Not only are we different from one another, we are alone. Orson Welles once said, ‘We are born alone, we live alone, we die alone.’ He was right. You were born alone, even though your mother was there, the doctor was there and the nurses were there. You were just a blob in your mother’s arms trying to make sense of it all. No one in that maternity ward could have known, or even imagined, what you were experiencing.
As you grew you had to come to terms with your new world, your new life. Your hopes, fears, joys and disappointments were felt by you and you alone.
And no matter how much you love someone, and they you, on a deep and fundamental level you are alone. Not lonely. Alone. Deep within you is an understanding that just two things exist: you, and everything else.
And when it’s your turn to die you might be on your death bed surrounded by loved ones, but it will be just you dying – that’s an experience no one can share.
All this means: each and every one of us is unique and alone on this Earth, and each and every one of us creates our own reality, our own world.
That may sound scary and lonely, but you’re a god! It’s your world, and you’re the boss!
Some people plant a tree and make their world their garden; some people throw a cigarette butt on the ground and make their world their ashtray. Seven billion people: seven billion worlds. Each one unimaginably different. And here’s the point: when someone trolls you, what they say is not reality. It’s their reality. It’s their perception. It’s their world. They are trolling you in their world. You can adopt their perceptions and place them in your world, if you want to, but why would you?
You have little or no control over how others create their world, but you don’t have to adopt their world. We are mere bit players in their world, and they give us little thought, because they are too busy creating their world. Whatever they think about us is fleeting.
Even loved ones close to us give us far less thought than we realise.
One day I watched eight youths play basketball. I noticed that when a player’s attempt to score failed, his teammates did not huff with dismay at his incompetence. They didn’t stop to put their hands on their hips and express their displeasure. Instead, they focused on the ball bouncing off the hoop and they continued with the game. In the same way, people don’t stop to dwell on how stupid or bad they think you might be. If they do think that way, it’s for a second, and then they move on.
Yet some of us can be so caught up in shame it feels like we are a black hole sucking everyone’s thoughts towards us. No. It’s not like that. If someone holds you in contempt, it’s for a second or two at most. They then get bored with the thought and move on.
‘You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realised how seldom they do.’
Our big mistake is to assume other people take our world as seriously as we take it. They don’t. They take their world seriously. They focus on their world.
This puts us in a powerful and exhilarating position: if people barely think about us it means we are free. We are not shackled by their thoughts. After all, thoughts cannot shackle us when they last a mere second! So, we might as well ditch any mask we might be wearing and be the person we are meant to be. There is no point in trying to be someone we are not, just to please and impress people, if all we are is a fleeting bit part in their world.
Besides, other people have a limited understanding of our own life experiences, values and attitudes, so why the hell should their point of view matter?
Take charge. Be the person you are and focus on creating the world you want to live in.
‘Trust yourself. Think for yourself. Act for yourself. Speak for yourself. Be yourself. Imitation is suicide.’ – Marva Collins, an extraordinary teacher in the U.S.A.
Further, if each and every one of us creates our own world, it means comparisons are pointless. The choices other people make reflect the world they are creating for themselves. If they choose to travel, or study, or smoke . . . that’s for them. What they do might not suit your world, so why compare? Be pleased for them if you like, but focus on creating your world. If they treat you harshly because your world isn’t like their world, it just means they haven’t yet realised that each one of us is different, and that we have our own journey.
‘Sometimes people around you won’t understand your journey. They don’t need to. It’s not for them.
‘Only I get to decide if I’m humiliated or not,’ said Josephine Georgio, when the media pestered her to feel humiliated after her left breast was accidentally exposed by the singer, Madonna.
Josephine decided that in her world she had not been humiliated. She didn’t care how someone else saw the situation in their world; she only cared about her perception of the situation in her world. And rightly so, because she is living in her world, not theirs.
Josephine resisted the advice telling her to sue Madonna. She dealt with the incident honestly and without avarice. I am so impressed! If Josephine deals with the rest of her life in the same way – not letting others create her reality – she will be taking charge of her life and building herself a resilient person.
We can be like Josephine; we don’t have to let another person’s ‘reality’ create our world.
But sometimes we do. Sometimes we desire people’s approval so badly we pretend to be someone we are not. We try to fit into their world by trying to impress them, and to please them. That’s because we want to be valued. However, it’s the person we are who needs to feel valued, not the person we pretend to be. When the person we pretend to be is valued, our true self gets left behind and remains unseen. And gets ignored. Then, instead of feeling valued, our true self gets to feel shame and self loathing.
The façade we present to the world might feel valued, but it has no substance. It’s a ghost.
‘When we try to get people to like us they like us more than we do.’
In short, don’t pretend to be someone you are not. Don’t sacrifice who you are to be a bit part in another person’s world. You embody your world, so present that world to people when you meet them.
When you do enter the world of another person, bring your real self. Be in their world on your terms. Let the person deal with who you are; don’t be the person they want you to be. That way, you get to create a quality connection with them. They may not approve of you, and you may not feel valued by them, but it will still be a quality connection.
Plus, you will remain self-assured, and grounded.
More importantly, you will value yourself.
I’m suggesting: every time you notice yourself lying, or pretending to be someone you are not, or saying something that goes against your values, stop. Remind yourself that you are in charge of your world and if you are going to grow as a person and create for yourself your best possible world, other people will have to meet you on your terms, not their terms. Search for who you really are, and deal with the situation on your terms.
It’s downright simple: you’re the boss of the world. Act like it.
‘Rather than wondering in disgrace, “What is wrong with me (for being a woman/having dark skin/having no money)?”, we are encouraged to ask, “What might be wrong, unjust or illogical about others for reproving me?”’
Alain De Botton in his book, ‘Status Anxiety’.
Q. ‘If I choose to be polite, doesn’t that mean I am modifying my behaviour to please people?’
In an earlier chapter I said we evolved to care about what people think of us. If we didn’t care, nothing would moderate our behaviour and we would end up being useless to ‘the tribe’ and rejected. Yes, of course, we do have to moderate our behaviour. We need to abide by the basic rules of social interaction when we create our world, otherwise we will become eccentric and isolated. However, even though we abide by those social rules, it’s still our world. If we go for a job interview, or approach someone we like, or speak with a neighbour, we can abide by those basic rules of social interaction while dealing with those people on our terms. Not theirs. If we are to be taken seriously, we have to present ourselves as we are.
Q. ‘What if I was born to be weird and eccentric? How will being authentic help? Shouldn’t I try to be normal?’
We only become weird when we lose our interpersonal skills. Work on them. (There are chapters in this book about them.)
‘If the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay. If my goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble. I get going by making authenticity the priority.’
Brené Brown, who also wrote: ‘We can only belong when we offer our most authentic selves and when we’re embraced for who we are.’
Brené is right; we only satisfy our deep need to belong when the real self is valued, not the mask we might present.
Q. ‘You say we evolved to care about what other people think of us. But I know someone who doesn’t care. He does what he wants. On Instagram he once received countless negative comments, and gleefully posted: ‘Look at all these haters, damn I feel good.’
We all care, unless we are deeply wounded. (Some people have been so unloved and neglected that the idea of anyone valuing them is incomprehensible to them. They might grow up unable to care about what other people think of them.)
As for that young man, he might not care about the haters, but I bet he cares about what some people think of him. Besides, if he truly didn’t care about what people thought about him, why is he posting on Instagram, and racking up followers?
Q. ‘You say we are only a bit part in another person’s world. But some people do obsess about other people. Fans of celebrities, for example.’
Even then, those fans are not really interested in the celebrity’s world. They want the celebrity to be a part of their world. The celebrity is just another (adored) part of the jigsaw puzzle that makes up their world.
Q. ‘You say we make our own world. But the ‘data’ we interpret is heavily affected by the natural world of physics and chemistry, and by our relationships. It’s also affected by everyone else creating their realities: the gardeners, the cigarette butt droppers, the good and the bad.’
Yes, but in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, we still get to make the decisions on what we do and on how we respond. We are still the boss, provided we choose to be.