Lately, I have found myself frequently expressing to people that, while I respect their opinions and beliefs and am glad they have found what works for them in their lives, I believe differently and their views do not work for me. What is “right” is what is right for them. What is “right” is also what is right for me.
Maybe I am showing my naivete and evidence of living in my own world (which I will not dispute – read on), but I am truly shocked at the overwhelming number of people who want to impose their “right” beliefs on me. I am also surprised at the many who take their subjective beliefs to be the irrefutable, unbiasied, singular truth. Dictionary.com defines a belief as “something believed; an opinion or conviction.” It is not a fact of dubious authenticity.
There are very few things which are hard and true, indisputable facts in this world like the Earth is round, for instance. This is a verifiable fact, right? But, wait a minute! It used to be believed that the Earth was flat and that ships could sail right off the end of it. It also used to be believed that, after a few periods in early childhood, the brain was hard-wired. It was printed in all the medical textbooks not too long ago. We now know that this is not the case at all and that the brain is capable of change until the day a person dies.
The information we have available to us, at the most basic level, is merely our brains interpretation of some electrical signals.
Color is nothing more than cone cells in the retina being stimulated by light waves within a certain range of the spectrum. Because each of our brains are different, our perceptions of color are different. The sky is blue, right? No question. However, your blue is different from my blue. Maybe even very different. Neither is right or wrong. Both are blue. Both are “right.” Your blue is just as blue to you as my blue is to me. Both are simply our individual brains’ interpretation of the same signals.
Similarly, making sense of the world and the happenings within it is nothing more than our brains’ individual interpretations of the signals received as we go through our days interacting with our environments. When giving meaning to these signals, our brains add memories, beliefs and attitudes about ourselves, others, and the world influenced by family, religion, school, culture and life experiences. Every spoken word we hear, every written word we read, every experience we have, absolutely everything, is always, always the product of our brain’s subjective interpretation of stimuli.
Hence, we all live in our own world which is our individual brain’s unique interpretation of the input it receives. There is no single, uniform reality that is consistent among all of us. Reality depends on what actually happens (objective) AND how our brains make sense of what happens (subjective). Both are necessary components of reality, and reality is a subjective concept unique to each of us. While there are many commonalities across all of our realities, it cannot be assumed that everything is the same for all of us or even remotely close to it.
Brain research is proving this without a doubt. Each of us experience the world uniquely influenced by our physical brain function, our past memories and experiences as well as present conditions. People see what they expect to see and remember what they expect to remember because of their brain’s perceptual bias. (For more information on this, see blog post Shades of Gray.) .
Even seeing something with your own eyes is not necessarily “the truth.” If three different people witness a single event, there are going to be three accounts of it which can sometimes vary greatly. Research is proving that our memories are not reliable recordings of what actually happened. Our memories are imperfect copies of the past colored by our brain’s perception. A memory is only as accurate as the last time it was remembered. (For more information on this, see blog post The Lies of the Past.)
Quantum physics is further confirming the idea of there not being one, consistent reality. Experiments have determined that subatomic particles, which comprise all matter, are not even solid, stable objects. They are vibrating, indeterminate packets of energy that cannot be understood or defined in isolation. They are schizophrenic, sometimes behaving like a wave and sometimes like a particle and sometimes even behaving like both AT THE SAME TIME. They only ‘collapse’ into a set state upon the instance of being observed. (For more information on this, see blog post In Two Places at Once.)
Given the above information, I have a very hard time understanding how anyone can tell me what I should believe or what is right. We don’t even have the same realities. “Right” is whatever is right for an individual based on their unique brain. Of course, to live in a civilized society, we have laws which are really just beliefs upon which the majority agree. For this reason, laws vary in different cultures.
The need to be right denotes inflexible and limited thinking. Taking a position of being right assumes superiority and judges the other person. For you to be right, someone has to be wrong. Needing to be right is always an invitation for conflict and a misuse of efforts, I believe. The energy one uses to prove their “right-ness” and to influence others could be put to better, more positive use. I once read an analogy of this where two deer were standing on railroad tracks arguing about the right direction in which to go. While they were arguing, a train ran over them.
Giving up the need to be right and being more open-minded can lead to a happier, more peaceful life and allow many opportunities for growth and learning. Not needing to be right can make a person more humble and a better listener. A person who does not have any identity or value invested in being right can live life not being afraid to make mistakes and can laugh more easily at themselves. When a person is secure with a strong sense of self, they feel no need to be right because a differing view is not a threat.
At any time, I can only speak and decide for myself about what is right FOR ME within my brain’s reality. I was told recently by someone who I do not live in the “real” world. My world is just as real to me as theirs is to them and neither is right or wrong – only different.
It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ― Henry David Thoreau