When it comes to our reality we have many flavors to choose from.
As a child, one of my favorite books was Sideways Stories from Wayside School. The absurd humor kept my attention, and the individual stories were unique enough to be remembered even now as an adult with children of my own. One particularly memorable story involved a girl named Maurecia who was bored with all the regular flavors of ice cream, so her teacher invented a flavor based on Maurecia herself, certain she would love it. Sadly, Maurecia didn’t like “Maurecia” flavored ice cream; she thought it tasted like nothing at all. The determined teacher made a flavor based on every child in the class, with varying degrees of success, but one thing remained constant: no child could taste the flavor that was based on them. The teacher finally realizes that she’s made a mistake: “Of course, you can’t taste anything. It’s Maurecia-flavored ice cream. It’s the same taste you always taste when you’re not tasting anything at all.”
As ludicrous as it is to imagine people-flavored ice cream, there is actually a lesson about reality that we usually don’t stop to think about. Stop and swallow right now. Unless you’ve just recently eaten, it probably doesn’t taste like much of anything. You are so accustomed to the “taste” in your mouth that it doesn’t register as a taste at all. In the same way, we become accustomed to the flavor of our filters: that is the background, history, education, race, gender, and beliefs that help shape your ideas about life and what you encounter in it. As long as nothing is too out of the ordinary, your filters of perception are so familiar they are mostly invisible. It becomes part of the programming of you, much the way your computer has code to help it run while all you see are the apps and programs that play on it.
This background isn’t necessarily harmful, in fact, it is a small part of what makes up your social personality and it is helpful to categorize things we encounter from an evolutionary standpoint so we can avoid danger while finding things like shelter and relationships that help us thrive as humans. The only issue is when you think your flavor ice cream is the only flavor, or that your flavor is somehow more valid or important than others. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that almost everyone we meet thinks the same way we do. Until you think about this: there are over 7 billion people on this planet at this point in history, and none of them grew up with the same parents, the same friends, or the same funny stories from elementary school. Even among our closest friends and family, we can still find differences in the way that we view things. Understanding that your perspective on life is almost entirely unique is humbling and empowering at the same time. This means that no one else sees things quite the same way that you do, that you have an exclusive seat to your own reality, and something to contribute to the world: yourself. But you must keep in mind that your exclusive seat is neither in front of or behind any other person’s: everyone is special except for the process that makes you special, which is exactly the same for every other human.
People argue about almost anything under the sun. Finances, child raising, politics, or whether toilet paper should be over or under, but underneath the content of the disagreement the procedure is essentially the same. You have an idea, and someone disagrees with you. You believe your own idea so strongly, you want to defend it, and the other person follows suit with theirs. If you buy into the idea that you ARE your thoughts about things, whether it be about religion, global warming or what topping is best on pizza, having someone disagree with you feels like a personal affront. Feeling threatened causes adrenaline to kick in to help you fight or run. Piles of books have been written on how to get along with people, how to coexist with your spouse, how to parent peacefully. I can save you some reading by telling you the one thing most of them miss is this: understanding that your “mind is not so much a camera as a paintbrush, and (you) are the artist” enables you to be able to appreciate not only the reality you create with your thoughts but to understand that everyone you meet is also busily painting masterpieces of their own. That truth reminds us not to take our thoughts so seriously, mistake our opinions as fact, or let any idea become enmeshed with our ego, which is the main source of every argument in existence. Rather than trying to patch up or dodge arguments, why not try to simply not have any?
None of this means we stop having thoughts, feelings or opinions about anything, in fact, the flavor of your life enhances the communal soup of those around you. It doesn’t mean becoming a doormat or believing that if your opinion isn’t true, then it must be meaningless. It simply allows you to look beyond your own and see the other. Regardless of how it may appear, none of the stars in our vast night sky are dimmed by the light of another, and we can neither outshine or be dimmed by those around us.
We would like to thank Michael Neill for the quote used above, and remind everyone that toilet paper should always hang “over”.
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