Rare is the day when we don’t think that someone’s behavior or emotional reaction makes absolutely no sense at all.  One day it might be a government official, another day it could be a loved one.

In these situations there is always the unstated assumption that they are seeing the same reality I am seeing.  And their response to the reality I am seeing is either crazy or stupid.

In fact, I contend that almost always there are at least two very different “realities” involved here: one for you and a totally different one for the other person. There also can be a third: what’s really happening “out there.”

The source of our “reality”

If you’ve been following this blog you’ve read on more than one occasion that our beliefs constitute our reality.  If you believe relationships are difficult, that is an absolute fact for you. If you believe life is difficult, that too is a fact and you will have loads of evidence to prove you are right.

Beliefs are generalization we make about ourselves, people, and life that, for us, are “the truth.”  So our beliefs about reality determine what we think our reality is.

In addition, we constantly give unconscious meaning to events and then we usually do not recognize the crucial distinction between reality and how that reality has occurred to us.

As a result of our beliefs and our occurrings, what we think is reality more often than not is really something that exists only in our mind, a subjective, unconsciously-created, personal view of reality, not what a video camera would record.

It follows, therefore, that although people’s behavior and emotional reactions might not make sense to us given our view of reality, they make perfect sense given their view of reality.  Moreover, most of the time neither our view nor their view corresponds to what actually exists “out there in the world.”

Shelly and I disagree about our children’s education

To make this clear, here’s a personal example of what I mean.

Shortly after our first daughter was born over 29 years ago, Shelly and I started to have conversations about her education.  I told her that I thought most public schools were toxic environments and produce more damage than value to the children who attend.  (To fully explain my reasons would take an entire blog post. To briefly summarize my reasons, most public schools encourage conformity, discourage creativity and independence, and emphasize memorizing information at the expense of critical thinking.)

So I suggested that we find a really good alternative private school for Blake to attend.  Shelly said that she understood my reasons for disliking most public schools and agreed with my reasoning, but still kept arguing that Blake should attend the best public school we could find.

If Shelly really understood my “reality” about public schools, it would make no sense at all for her to continue to argue that Blake should attend one.  As a result, I would get frustrated and annoyed whenever we discussed Blake’s education.  I remember a lot of heated discussions on this topic.

Shelly’s “reality” about public schools

Eventually I figured out Shelly’s “reality” about schools, at which point her preference for public school made perfect sense.  Thirty years ago Shelly (like me and many other people in the world) had the belief: What makes me good enough and important is having people like me.  Other related beliefs included: I can’t survive without close friends.  Friends are the most important things in one’s life.  As a result of these and other similar beliefs, Shelly’s friends were the most important thing in her life.

For Shelly, public school was the single most important place for our daughter to make friends and be accepted.  And if making a lot of friends was one of the most important things one gets from school, then a small private alternative school with about 120 students spread over eight grades would be a horrible choice for her daughter.  A public school with about a thousand kids would be far superior.

Shelly has since eliminated all these beliefs, but at the time her choice of schools for Blake—which seemed absolutely insane to me given what I thought about public schools—made perfect sense to Shelly given her view of public schools: the best place to make a lot of friends and learn about friendship.

Can you see that the difference between my behavior and feelings about public and private schools and Shelly’s was totally a function of how we viewed those schools.  In fact, neither view of reality was “the truth.” Each was determined by our beliefs.

After I understood Shelly’s reality about public schools, I still disagreed with her choice, but I no longer thought her choice was stupid and felt annoyed at her.  I realized that I would have made the same school choice as she did if I “saw” public schools the same way she did and she would have made the same choice I did if she had the same view I did.

In fact, over the next few years as Shelly eliminated her beliefs relating to friends and to her concern about what others thought of her, she ultimately saw public schools the way I did and ended up totally supporting our joint decision to send both our daughters to a great alternative private school.

The “reality” of government officials

My personal view about the role of the federal government is very different from conservative Republicans, especially the Tea Partyers.  But unlike many of my friends who are angry at them and who think they are stupid, I have come to realize that their proposed policies are a function of their beliefs about the proper role of government.  If I had those beliefs, I’d espouse the same policies.

Israel and Palestine: the problem is the result of different realities

For another good example where understanding this distinction can be very useful, look at the conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians.  It should be clear that each side is viewing a totally different reality.  And their different behaviors are a direct manifestation of each’s reality.

What are those behaviors?  Israel puts up a fence and checkpoints to keep suicide bombers out of areas where Israelis congregate.  Their invasions are designed to stop rocket fire, which comes from the invaded areas.  Israelis settle anyplace they want, in other words, anyplace within the borders of the State of Israel, even in areas that are predominantly Palestinian.

Palestinians uses violence as the only avenue they claim remains open to them to try to get Israel to recognize their basic human rights and give them back their homeland, which was taken from them by force and by illegal and immoral international agreements.  No matter where they live today they want the right to return to their former homes on land that is now part of Israel.

This is a very condensed description what each side does and wants.  Now consider the “reality” as seen by both sides and notice how each’s behavior makes sense given the respective realities.

Reality for Israelis looks like: Centuries of anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, the struggle to create a homeland of their own, trying to survive as a small nation when others have sworn to push them back into the sea, constant shelling from Palestinian areas (and other countries), and the ever-present threat of suicide bombers.  Jewish people have always lived on this land and King David made the city of Jerusalem the capital of Israel 3,000 years ago.  Even 150 years ago there were more Jews living in Jerusalem than Muslims.

Reality for Palestinians looks like: We were living here peaceably when Israel and international agreements (we were not a party to) forcibly drove us from our homeland; Israel has kept us from returning and denies those of us living in Israel basic rights as human beings.  Jerusalem contains some of Islam’s holiest cities.  Moreover, the Jews used violence against the British when they thought it was the only way to get them to give up control over what is now the State of Israel.  They thought they were morally justified in their action, and it worked—they got the land they wanted.  (See my earlier blog post for more details on this particular issue: http://www.mortylefkoe.com/a-tool-for-resolving-conflict/#).

When you get that people’s behavior and emotional reactions always make sense given the way reality occurs to them (which is a function of their beliefs and occurrings), you might notice that you are less confused by what people do, less angry at them for doing it, and better able to find common ground for a solution that works for all concerned.

Please leave your comments and questions about how people’s different beliefs and occurrings account for their different reactions to things, and how recognizing that can reduce your upset and increase your compassio

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