One day at school a week or so ago, we had so many teachers out that they didn’t have enough subs. It happens more often that you might think. On this particular day, I had to cover somebody else’s class during my normal planning block, and I soon discovered that I was given a roomful of kids that were about as pleasant as acidic anal leakage. This was not really an issue for me because that pretty much describes my classes all day, every day. The difference is that I get to see them every day and cure their unpleasantness with some pretty stringent classroom management. Not so when you’re just babysitting for an hour.
Well on this day I was met with a lovely young man who did not like me from the first minute. He asked me if he could go to the vending machine, and I said no because he just came from lunch and I don’t let students do random stuff and most likely walk the halls when I’m simply covering a class. I have no interest in getting in trouble for any student’s benefit.
Well before long, he started verbally harassing another student in a way that seemed playful but sounded pretty shitty, and before I could decide which it was, this lovely young man ripped his belt off and started chasing the other one. Naturally, the other guy ran out of the room to get away from him.
I don’t know if he ever connected, but I was waiting on this lovely young man when he came back to the room. I told him I didn’t take that crap and I didn’t give second chances when I’m just doing the school a favor. So I told him to get his crap and go to our version of in-school suspension.
He, of course, took this instruction and proceeded to ignore me, stall, talk to other students, etc. When I had very quickly had enough, I said, “Okay, I’ll just call down and have somebody come and escort you down there.” He responded with “Hold you ass on.” I laughed. I said, “Well thanks. Now I can add you cussing at me to the write up.” He said, “I don’t f**king give two f**ks.” To this I let out a very loud and sarcastic “HA!!”
This swell young man puffed up and did his best Danny Zuko tough guy impression as he sauntered out of the room. About the time he got to the door, I said, “Have a nice life, dude.”
As a response to this, this magnificent young man (who I later learned had just gotten out of jail) came back at me with a comment that makes me laugh every time I think of it. With the excitement of a prepubescent bully who had just shanked his first fat kid, he said, “It’ll be better than yours because you work here. Haha!!”
After I got through crying at the hurt and inward torment that this reverent young man caused me, I actually spent a moment reflecting on the blatant lack of reality he must live in every day. He probably really does believe that his life is going to be better than mine. He’s a disrespectful seventeen year old ex-convict with all the qualifications necessary to be a lifelong asshole and a lifelong resident of free government housing (with a fenced in yard!!), and he thinks his life is going to be better than mine. I’m not saying it won’t, but the odds are in my favor. The reality he lives in simply isn’t relatable to me.
And it’s not just him. I’ve been cussed out three times this year. Been ignored five hundred. Been disrespected somewhere around nine million. In addition to that, I have had over fifty young people fail my class so magnificently and appear so concerned with their futures that they don’t even take the initiative to cheat. They’d rather just systematically fail through autonomous, unceasing apathy.
And those types of students are not alone in their inability to see the realities of the world around them. There are also those students who think their future lies in beating their friends to the fortnight or at the fortnight or because of the fortnight or by drinking the fortnight. I don’t know what that game entails, but it is a damn sight more important than linear functions and future income, I can tell you that!!
The first very obvious point here is that very few people in this world would be able to summon a compelling argument that teenagers are fully grounded, rational, realistic people. That’s obvious. Their reality and mine share nothing but the word “reality.”
But think about the grownups in this world who find themselves defined by various age groups, ailments, beliefs, ideologies, fraternities, races, ethnicities, genders, religions, hobbies, or whatever it is that defines every individual adult on the planet if somebody were to ask them, “So who exactly are you?” When they answer that question (if they’re even able to,) it will be almost immediately apparent where their reality reaches its limits. Because every person on Earth is void of reality in some way – whether their own or of the world around them – and most of them have no idea.
Here’s an example of what I mean taken from a fake, over-the-top eulogy: “Aunt Esther loved the way her grandchildren glowed when they ate her fried chicken. She cooked it in pure lard and wouldn’t change that recipe even if the Pope requested olive oil. I’m betting she would have for Jesus, though. She didn’t much care for the Pope, always insisting on wearing white after Labor Day and almost never speaking English. And Aunt Esther loved to cook while listening to Barry Manilow, a man she finally admitted to having a lifetime of erotic dreams about in just her final days.”
Esther’s lack of reality is as such: She thought people who ate grilled chicken were hippies and vegetarians. If you didn’t love Jesus, you were surely bound for the fiery depths of hell. Her reality did not include an ability to comprehend people who wore whatever the hell they wanted whenever they hell they wanted. She thought foreigners were stupid because they didn’t speak English. And the only reason she admitted to the erotic Barry Manilow dreams was because of the Valium and the Fleet Enema. People who had erotic dreams about people other than their spouse were dirty, vile people with sex addictions and abortion habits.
Sure, that example is a little stereotypical and outlandish, but it’s also pretty typical. We all have beliefs, allegiances, ideals, partisanships, prejudices, proclivities, favoritisms, convictions, principles, and maybe even some pretty severe “isms” that keep us from having a clear view of reality.
I’ve already addressed young people, but what about the adults? If you’re paying attention to the world around you, it’s actually quite shocking – and also quite mesmerizing – to attempt even a moment of seeing the world from another person’s reality. And if you do it often enough, you’ll notice that very few of us have a firm grasp of our own realities.
So in this article I’m going to address people who belong to a few groups that are the most interesting to me – addicts, religious zealots, sports fans, parents, and people who belong to the big two political parties – and see if we can’t determine why reality is so damn hard to acknowledge.
Because if you haven’t noticed, it clearly is.
The Reality of Addicts
Let’s get the easy one out of the way first, simply because it’s easy, because it affects the fewest number of people, and because I intimately know what the hell I’m talking about. Simply put, addicts have a grip on reality that’s about as strong as a broken pair of tongs trying to grab a pastry noodle.
I was an active alcoholic for twenty years. The things I told myself are humorous at this point, but they were as disconnected from reality as a Kardashian monologue. “There’s plenty of other people who drink this much,” I would say. “Nobody can tell I’m hungover.” “I’ll be fine to drive to the store after only eight beers.” “I’m such a good person otherwise that women will still love me even if I have this one little vice.” Blah, blah, idiot. In the moment, I always thought I was very realistic about life as an active alcoholic. But of course that’s like saying, “Sure, we’re on a boat made of raw meat in the middle of the Atlantic with no gas, food, or sunscreen, but we’ll be fine.”
The “why” for addicts is pretty easy. It’s all about preserving the addiction. You will make your reality whatever it needs to be to preserve the addiction. It could be as severe as, “Well, I’m a doctor and this $200,000 salary is great, but working nights three times a week really is getting in the way of my beer. I think I’ll take that cashier position at Dollar General.”
That’s extreme, of course, but sound rationalization has never been the hallmark of the addict. Usually it’s more like, “I think I’ll be fine to go pick up my toddler from preschool after six morning beers.” Or “Hey, now that’s a good looking kegerator. I’m putting it in the kitchen and taking out the sink.”
Just far, far from reality. But for an addict, it’s all about preserving the addiction for another day. I did it for twenty years. I know. They have to live and function in a world that works for their addiction, and if it doesn’t, they’ll alter their reality until it does.
The Reality of Religious Zealots
This is perhaps my very favorite of this list of people who struggle with reality, but please note that I have spent a lifetime as a believer. I’ve also, however, been a typically unbiased cynic. I believe in God for one main reason. Absolutely NOTHING on this planet (or the cosmos) makes one bit of sense unless somebody is responsible for it. Anything and everything tangible or intangible on this planet could fall under that very simple credo. None of it makes sense unless there is a higher power responsible for creating it. Not one thing.
The reason this is my favorite on this list is because the very foundation of religion contains no discernible reality. This is not to say that belief, faith, and its effect on people’s lives is not real. It is very much real. There is absolutely reality in faith. But religion is an unprovable belief in something that cannot be seen or touched. In a “prove it” based world, the reality is that it can’t be proven.
The problems with this indisputable realization is that staunch religious zealots will absolutely dispute it. They will say stuff like, “I know God is real because….” or “Jesus spoke to me….” or “The Bible is inspired by God” or “All you have to see if a baby’s face to know God is real” or “He performs miracles every day.”
In other words, the “reality” to unwavering believers is that their religion IS reality. And to them, I wholeheartedly believe it is. But nothing about it is actually real. That’s not really disputable. You may be reading this and find my words blasphemous, and that’s fine, but I can actually PROVE that you can’t prove there is one true God. It’s not that hard, either.
I can go to the Library of Congress, the Vatican, every Christian college library in the country, and even stop by Joel Osteen’s house, and nowhere will I find a picture of God, a birth certificate of Jesus, or a short film about heaven will real footage. I can find LOTS of commentary and LOTS of books claiming the words in the Bible or the Quran or the Torah or even the Bhagavad Gita are “inspired” by one God or another, but nobody can even prove the translations are perfect or that the stories and parables that passed down through oral history were transcribed without error.
So what does this have to do with why reality is so hard? Think about it a different way. Let’s take one individual person and make them a really staunch, unwavering, devout Christian. Their reality is quite literally theirs alone. It might mirror their church or a group of like-minded believers, but their reality is emotionally controlled, preserved, analyzed, and utilized in their life by them alone. Their reality is ONLY theirs. Naturally, however, their reality is based on beliefs, which they rightly call “truths.” Though they are not actually facts, they are truths to that person. This reality is perfectly reasonable and perfectly healthy. It’ll also probably get them into heaven one day.
But we have to emphasize the “probably” in that last paragraph. None of what they believe in can be proven, so when we go back and ask our question, “Why is reality so hard?”, in most cases we are asking why it is so hard for that devout Christian to accept the realities of other people whose beliefs might not mirror their own. And in many cases, they may have no beliefs whatsoever. That’s very difficult for a devout Christian to accept. But if they can accept that as reality and allow other people to exist in their own reality without judgment or rebuke, suddenly the reality of the believer more closely resembles that of the unprejudiced god they worship.
Crazy how that works out.
The Reality of Sports Fans
Crazed, rabid sports fans are not rational beings. The very definition of reality from Merriam-Webster states, “The quality or state of being real.” There is a tremendous amount of “stuff” that is real when we speak of sports, but there is very little that is “real” about the allegiance of sports fans other than the allegiance that causes the illusions of reality.
With sports, you can look at statistics, win-loss records, attendance numbers, number of championships, or four thousand different ranking categories per sport. With sports FANS, however, they can state all those “real” numbers all they want to, but their allegiance skews the reality of those numbers by adding a subjectivity to their fandom.
Why else would we hear the following subjective, unprovable, ridiculous arguments every single year. “They’re better than the 2015 team that beat y’all’s asses.” “We can finally call him the GOAT now.” “We would have won if the refs didn’t steal it from us with all those second half fouls.” “That was the best game I’ve ever seen.” “They might have beaten us both times this year, but we were the better team.” “I wouldn’t let my son go to that school if they gave him a full ride and a free dorm brothel.”
There is no reality in what they say. I’ve been guilty of that at points in my life. I don’t really do that anymore. It’s just not all that important. I love my teams, but sometimes the reality is that they suck.
So once again, how do we answer the question, “Why is reality so hard?” Honestly? It’s sports. Who cares? Be as unrealistic and void of reality as you want to be. Next.
The Reality of Parents
There is very little point in penning examples for this class of people. If you’re a parent, you’ve seen parents with an inability to exist in reality with anything pertaining to their little prince or princess.
In addition, if you are a parent, you have BEEN the person described in that first paragraph. Parents simply do not exist in reality when their children are concerned. But WHY is that reality so hard?
I think this one is pretty obvious, if you want the truth. Parents possess such an irrational love for their children that reality slowly disappears any time there is even a slight increase in “I must protect my child.” In addition, the most prominent long-term goals that parents have for their children are ALSO irrational and lacking in reality.
They want them to be “a better person than I am.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but if you are living a life that is easy to beat, it will seldom be beaten because young people follow actions, not words. If they’re going to be better than you when they grow up, you better be a phenomenal human being while they’re growing.
Parents will also say, “I just want you to be happy.” This is slightly more realistic, but I hope this one contains a fairly regular addendum. In reality, this is said when a child or young adult is facing – or has recently faced – a challenge in their life that led them to be unhappy. The reality is that saying it does not make it so. Just like the last one, the reality is that they need to SEE happiness – and SEE a parent overcome a challenge with a positive attitude – in order to mimic it in their adult lives and learn HOW to mimic it during their adolescence.
In short, obvious terms, a parent lacks reality about their child because the opposite of happy is too hard to accept. So they just don’t. The opposite of success is too hard, too. Any and every dream they have for their child – whether short-term or long – is impossible to accept if the opposite were to come true. The love they have for their children – and the happiness and dreams they have for them – is simply far too fused to their own happiness and dreams.
For parents, reality is not just hard; it’s often impossible.
The Reality of Politics
And finally, we have that segment of society so disconnected from reality that it only takes one trip to the nightly world news to leave you with all sorts of feelings that could all be summed up with a crude meme of Washington DC exploding and millions of people in the background cheering.
Politics is different than the real world. It always has been and always will be. It’s a cutthroat world of greased palms, broken promises, and political favors. The difference between the past and present is that they used to at least pretend to reference reality. The constituents used to feel like they mattered. Their issues were (perhaps with crossed fingers) seen as real and important. I even remember a time when people claimed to vote for people, not always parties.
In my view, we have two very loud political parties that make up 20% or so of the population on either extreme. Then you have 60% of the population that leans one way or the other – and possibly even votes a typical straight ticket – but they just don’t represent that 20% on the far right that would rather see a country in complete discriminatory anarchy than to allow democratic ideas, and you have the 20% on the far left that would prefer socialism and 80% tax rates and a world where NOBODY was considered rich OR poor than to so much as converse with a Republican.
The extremes of both parties are so forcibly withdrawn from reality that this “division” buzzword of the past few years is proudly worn like a forehead tattoo. But I’ll argue that division is not the correct word. It’s reality. Or used together with “lack of” to be more specific.
This article is not about placing blame on anybody for creating this political lack of reality, but few people would argue that the independents and the leaners are to blame. The extremes are so immaturely dead set on NEVER working together, compromising, negotiating, or treating other adults as human beings that it’s really hard to blame the middle. There is no more mutual respect, no agree to disagree, no civility, no compromise, no “putting our differences aside for the good of the country.”
There is a bit of humor in this infantile behavior, and if these political sasquatches would get their head out of their respective asses, they would easily see the lack of reality in which they reside. The humor is that BOTH sides say EXACTLY the same degrading insults about the other. And they appear to be completely blind to this.
Both sides say that the other “hates America” because apparently you MUST be on the correct side and have no individual liberties to love America. Both sides live under the assumption that there is only ONE correct way to be an American, which makes the first amendment meaningless. Both sides often say that the other lacks a brain or that they are stupid or that they can’t think for themselves. Both sides say their leaders lie to them. Both sides say the other is brainwashed. Both sides blame the media that the other ALWAYS references as fact. Both sides say that the only way to “save America” is through their party’s ideologies. Both say “their” president created the good economy, but the other guy created all this damn division.
I could keep going, but it’s pointless. The reality is that the political extremists are not ever going to help lead us back to a strong democracy or an unbreakable republic. Likewise, they are NOT going to lead us to socialism or fascism. Their blatant refusal to embrace reality is going to lead us into anarchy and division so unrelenting that even if a civil war never happens, there will be pockets of war all over the country. And that will be the beginning of the end of the United States as it was designed.
Reality in politics shouldn’t be all that hard. You compromise, you negotiate, you act like freaking adults, you drop the stubbornness and try to accept all ideas, even if they differ from your own. The reality is that we all live inside our own perception of reality, and that means 330 million other Americans do, too. But when the extremes are immovable, it brings the whole country down to their degraded level. And when BOTH extremes are doing the same thing, we have an immovable object that makes their positions in government utterly pointless. And when we have a pointless government, anarchy is not too far behind.
The Reality That This is the Last Subheading
I think we as a country have allowed our freedom, our self-expression, our perceived but often inconsequential privilege, our social media addictions, our party affiliations, our nearly mandatory offense, and the very speed of life to come to a place where we do not understand our own reality.
Who am I? Am I okay with that? Who do I want to be? Who would I be if….? What would I do if….? What are the limits on what I will accept from the reality I see in other people? Because of our freedom, should it even be permissible to allow myself limits on other people’s realities?
We need to take a moment in our lives to consider the realities of other people. To consider the reality of our words and our actions. We need to consider the reality of our beliefs and our ideals. To find the reality in our laws. We need to figure out how our realities fit into the world and alongside so many other realities.
But deeper than that, we MUST come to a place where we recognize how those realities affect ALL people. There is no requirement in this consideration that you change who you are or sacrifice your principles. Not one. The only requirement is that we allow and accept the realities of all Americans, whether those Americans live in our house, go to our school, work with us, live in our state, live in our country, or are citizens of Earth.
I think reality is hard because being wrong, weak, scared, vulnerable, distressed, lonely, disrespected, apprehensive, or discredited is simply hard to personally accept. When we can’t do that, we avoid it altogether. And when we can’t accept ourselves and these potentially negative realities, it’s nearly impossible to accept people who differ from us.
You know what I’ve personally learned about reality in the past two years, though? I was imprisoned by alcohol and tobacco and their addictive holds on my body, mind, and soul for twenty years. Today I’m free. I’ve fought God every step of my adult life because I can’t find a way to align Him with my reality. But today I accept that. I get to envy people who so effortlessly saturate their reality around an unprovable deity, but my reality tells me that’s simply never going to be me.
But what I have also done is accept the reality of who I am. I don’t yet love him, but I’m growing to like him. I’ve also taken great pride in being able to write about my reality because it truly helps me open up my mind and my processes to the realities of how people view me and how I view other people. I really believe this world is missing that self-reflection that I now view as a gift. It took me twenty years of addiction to reflect the way I have these past two years, but that’s a gift.
So yeah, it might be my personal opinion, but there isn’t a soul on this Earth that can tell me this opinion is wrong. Find the reality of who you are, and do it now. When you’re done, think of one person you hate and see if you can’t find their reality. And don’t just half ass it and walk a mile in their shoes. Walk all damn day and then clean their shoes when you’re done. The world would be a better place. And that’s a reality that can’t be disputed.