Living our delusions

We are all delusional. Human beings create our reality, and we do it through thinking certain thoughts, imagining stories and inventing explanations to account for what we do not understand.

The lines between objective truth and subjective reality are thin and blurry. There are facts, that is true. But there is also spin. There are conceptual frames for understanding the world. These are actually more important than facts, in many ways, because they shape our world views.

George Lakoff, a cognitive scientist and linguist at UC Berkeley explains this well in his books on Metaphors We Live By and Moral Politics, he explains how humans take in new information and either accept and incorporate it or reject and disregard it. (Back in 2006 this was the subject of my Masters thesis on Mythical Condensation in Electoral Politics. Maybe someday I will dust that thing off, revise it and try to publish it, since I think it is more relevant than ever.)

A decade ago I used the Wellstone campaigns as a case example to illustrate mythical condensation, and I began to understand how the marketing can be more important than the product. Think about the Coca-Cola and their “Open Happiness” campaign that they used for many years. Carbonated sugar water is not happiness.

Wellstone button - Stand up keep fighting

A favorite Wellstone campaign button

One might argue that the ubiquity of carbonated sugar water is actually the source of diabetes, obesity and perhaps many other diseases including cancer and dementia. But does reality matter? If we strongly associate Coke with happiness, and this overrides our knowledge of the toxic effects of the substance, then the facts become irrelevant.

We are wired for story, as Brené Brown explains in her work. It is stories that create coherence in our lives, that allow us to connect our experiences to our understanding and make sense of it all. So in politics and in life, we do our best with the story-lines that make sense to us, and this becomes our “short hand” for making sense of the confusing and overwhelming onslaught of media.

Sometimes we have to question these story-lines and ask whether they could possibly be concepts we choose to believe, rather than facts that are objective. It can be hard to know the difference!

Here is a simple example: “I don’t have time for…x.”  In actuality we have time for everything we NEED to do in a day. Technically to survive, all we need to do is breathe. Humans are well adapted to go a day (or even a few days) without food, as our ancestors did for generations.

So really, all we have to do in this moment to survive is breathe.  Everything else we tell ourselves we HAVE to do is a lie. We *choose* to do what we do, most of our are not compelled to do anything. Granted, if we choose not to go to work, we probably will not have a job long-term. If we choose not to pay our bills, there will be consequences.

But the delusion that we HAVE to do anything right now besides breathe is a fairly common one. Maybe you have even caught yourself using this. What if we questioned our beliefs and our story lines more often? What if we challenged our own thinking and our own assumptions? Would we be able to get outside of our own delusions/belief systems and better see other people’s world views?

It is kind of a radical notion, that we are all delusional. But I ask you to consider your own reality and the stories you tell yourself. What if you “tried on” different stories? How might this change your perspective and daily experience?

 

 

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