More and more, my Soul informs me that so much of life is bullshit. I have come to understand that perception is faulty and much of what we perceive is not real or true but is a product of our beliefs. This writing is an inquiry into information, truth, perception, and reality (both socially constructed and universal). I want to warn you that I have more questions than answers. Yet, paradoxically, it seems understanding evolves even from unanswered questions.
Truth - the body of real things, events, and facts: actuality.
I should tell you that I like words and using them with precision. When I looked up the definition of the word information, I was surprised because I thought I knew what information is. But, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary says something is “information” when it includes the qualities of being factual, can be measured or validated, and is therefore true.
Perception – awareness of something being as such.
If that’s the case, what do we call all the stimuli that bombard us every moment of every day? We perceive things through our senses. Incoming stimuli reach our eyes and ears, or we may smell, taste, or touch a stimulus. Then, our brains try to make sense of it. Because a stimulus appears to us through our senses, does that make it real, and therefore true? How do we decipher what truth is – and is not?
According to Merriam-Webster’s definition of information, the mass of stimuli coming at us every day cannot all be defined as information. So, what is it? Mis- or dis- information? Lies? Fantasies? Delusions? Hallucinations?
Reality - the quality or state of occurring or existing in actuality.
To my mind, most of what we call reality is consensual. If I were to interview every person in the United States and ask them, “Today, what is the color of the grass in my front yard?” Most would say, “It is green,” given they are not color blind, nor psychotic.
Social Construct – an idea that has been created and accepted
by the people in a society.
If I am the only person in the country who fully believes the grass is orange, does that make it real, or true, or am I psychotic, or just rebelliously contrarian? Those who agree to the greenness of my grass have created a social construction of reality. Language is a construct, too. “Yes, we all agree, and we call the color of your grass “green.”
Universal Truth – a truth is considered universal if it is logically valid
in and beyond all times and places.
Are there some truths that are not socially constructed? I would say there definitely are some universal truths. For example, impermanence is the number one inescapable fact of life. Our bodies age and decay. We eventually die, as will everyone else. Human life is brief. And because life is impermanent, everyone suffers loss. We lose people we love; our own good health diminishes. That is true of every human being who ever lived and whoever will live.
I don’t know about you, but reality feels so fragile to me because we each perceive reality through the lens of our experience. We each have a perspective. That’s why I think buying into someone else’s perspective without testing the truth of it often leads to bullshit. It’s like this. If my sunglasses are tinted blue, my view of the sunset will be similar but different from your view of the sunset behind your amber sunglasses. Our perceptions are formed by what and under what circumstances we perceive. You may insist that the sky was tinged a golden color while I did not see gold but a gorgeous blue-violet sky. Someone else not wearing sunglasses will have seen a completely different set of colors in the sunset. Are we all correct?
Back to social constructs. Let’s consider the social construction of feminine gender roles – that’s something I know a little bit about. In this construct, women should be thin, sweet, accommodating, polite, and nurturing. If you buy into that construct, you behave in ways that express and confirm what it means to you to be a woman. If there is any part of you that does not fit neatly into that social construction, you feel ‘less than’ and ‘not enough.’ Dare I say, “damaged?” My question is this, “Who doesn’t feel like they don’t completely fit the bill?” I don’t know one woman who is confident they entirely fit that very limited construction of feminine gender roles.
So, what’s the purpose of the social construction of feminine gender roles, anyway? What’s the purpose of any construct? Well, constructs help us to feel safe because we know what’s expected, and the closer we are to the agreed upon construct, the more accepted we feel. Social constructs help us to make sense of the world…but just because there is majority consensus (particularly, among the patriarchy), does consensus actually make this construct true? For me, the answer is “no.” Constructs, simply by their nature, are self-limiting. If a woman is not especially polite or accommodating, does that make her an unfeminine woman? Is she something other than a woman? I’m calling bullshit on that idea.
Having worked with so many teen girls with body image dissatisfaction, eating disorders, anxiety, and depression, I realize their struggles are a symptom of a deeper issue. I feel angry with our society that causes these girls to have spent even one minute of their time buying into such a limited construction of femininity and themselves that causes them to feel badly about themselves. Why? Because a social construction of reality does not necessarily make it the truth!
When we label people, other sentient beings, and things, we are trying to establish understanding and order. But by doing so, we create a limit. Language is limiting. It’s amazing we understand each other at all. Nonetheless, by naming and labeling, we also create a hierarchy and a system of approval/disapproval or acceptance/rejection of those who are like/unlike us.