Facing up to reality. What does that mean to me? Sooner or later, we all have to do it. It’s a growth process and it is always changing. When I was little, facing reality meant getting my homework done. Although I still have to do that as a college student, it takes a lot more time and energy; focus and determination. Growing is good. Growing up is good. Change is always constant. Once something changes, facing up to that reality also changes.
Reality is hard. And there is nothing more satisfying than knowing that you have the power to overturn any situation. Yet, facing reality is even harder. Sometimes we fear the pain will be so much that we prefer to duck our heads in the sand rather than go out and face our demons. But maybe facing reality hurts, because we’re doing it all wrong. Maybe facing reality doesn’t have to feel like overwhelm. Maybe it could feel like freedom, or opportunity. Or maybe, that’s the only way to face reality, and doing it in any other way is not actually facing reality, but faking reality. People tend to hide from the things they cannot accept.
A common topic of our discussions is our need as a society to face up to reality. Facing up to the reality that there are real ethical problems in our world. Significant change needs to happen. What does this mean, and how can we ‘face up’ to something if we aren’t sure there are issues? I believe that there are things that need to be done before one can face up to reality. First one must live in the real world. I found that three authors have helped guide thoughts on each person facing up to their own realities. Henry Thoreau, Annie Dillard, and Dale Jamieson all take a different perspective on how we as a society can face up to any reality and change. Each have their own perspective, but together they bring light to an ethical issue, and maybe even a solution.
Thoreau faced up to reality through his search for spiritual understanding. From his perspective, the personal spiritual growth leads to an understanding of spiritual truth which can help people face up to reality. In order to face up to reality, we have to wake up and keep ourselves awake to see and understand oneself. Living deliberately, self-reliantly, and independently in the present is one way. He also states that ‘The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they even exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality’ (176). One has to understand their own set of values to begin to face reality, because without values and ideals one cannot grow and develop. We use our values and gains to make decisions, however many forget their values and forget to appreciate their independence. So many things are done in a group or a team, that it is hard to face up to reality by yourself.
One thing about facing up to reality is that it needs to be done independently. One cannot face up to reality because others do it, they have to want it for themselves. Each of us needs to be willing, hard as that is, to change. Although we are followers by nature and will go with what others say like Thoreau states, ‘The virtues of a superior man are like the wind; the virtues of a common man are like the grass; when the wind passes over it, the grass bends’ (141). This is very important in realizing that facing up to reality is facing up to your own reality, not someone else’s, doing this will enable change. We see an example of this when he tries to explain to a companion of his, John Field, how his life could improve if he lived simplified. He tried to help Field through his experience with a more satisfied life. Thoreau encouraged Field to live a more independent life in the woods, which would free him. Field reminds me of many people in modern society, everyone is eager to advance, but at what cost? For what gain? Field is not facing his own reality because he does not see that a change must be made in his life.
In trying to face up to reality one must see reality and themselves in it, to open themselves up. Annie Dillard helps to explains this. She shows a new way of not only seeing but thinking about the world in relation to how humans perceive it. Dillard shows how light and dark affect sight, how good and evil dictate how we see the world. Seeing, however, is often an unpleasant thing to do, for when we open ourselves to the world, what we often find is the suffering and death found there. ‘The remarkable thing about the world, is precisely that there is no veil cast over these horrors. These are mysteries performed in broad daylight before our eyes; we can see every detail, and yet they are still mysteries’ (66).
‘If we are blinded by darkness, we are also blinded by light’ (116). I think many struggles with facing up to reality because if we do not know exactly what we are looking at, how can we trust what we hear or feel? It would be very difficult to hold peace if one doubts everything seen, felt, known to them. Dillard explains that there are two ways of seeing and it makes a difference whether or not one unlocks the “secret of seeing”. The first way, Dillard puts, ‘When I see this way, I analyze and pry’ (122). The second way to see, Dillard says, ‘But there is another kind of seeing that involves a letting go. “When I see this way, I sway transfixed and emptied’ (122). The difference between seeing the first way and the second way is that the first way is very tedious. Trying too hard to see actually makes it more difficult to see. People have to not so much expect the unexpected but open their mind to a wide range of possibilities. Dillard calls us to continue to struggle with the world around us saying, ‘So many things have been shown me on these banks, so much light has illuminated me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever-renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free’ (70).
Where Dillard and Thoreau talk about facing up to reality in a more spiritual way, Jamieson speaks about common sense morality and facing up to our reality in a physical way. From his perspective, facing up to reality is realizing that we are the issue. Our actions and reactions to things. People realize now that we have issues with our depleting natural resources. People do not see the issue until maybe it’s too late. How much can really be done to fix the damage already been done by either years of waste, not realizing consequences of chemical use, and so on. You could stretch this way of thinking into many areas of life, not just environmental consequences. Ethically, we need to step up—those who know to do it—and make a difference. Perhaps the first step is taking a personal responsibility before jumping on the bandwagon to rallying the neighborhood. Any education that you have learned, you should share with others and build toward the changing of a mindset.
Jamieson talks along the lines that commonsense morality is a good thing to have, it does not explain the behaviors associated with it. ‘Having drawn sharp distinctions between recognizing the consequences of our moral commitments, extending them, and revising them. . . Moralizing can be a way of doing all three separately or together’ (170). He also states that recognizing the obligation to change can help people extend their principles, once one extends their principles and understanding they can then begin to revise their behaviors and beliefs. When you’re facing up to reality it is a moral commitment. You must be a responsible person, if you have faced your own reality maybe it is time to help another. Help those trying to make a change, help them accept the unpleasant consequences of one’s actions and help them make a commitment.
We have such difficulty changing and most of the time don’t even perceive real issues. Generally speaking, we are an educated nation because we are a progressive, free and open society. Unfortunately, we still have large percentage of the population who are not willing to open their minds and embrace reality. The possibility that they are part of the problem does not register to them and the footprint that they are leaving behind for the next generation is irrelevant. They are going to do things the way they have always done things because that is what they know how to do them. Even though many might realize that there are issues and our reality is not what it could be, they will not make an effort.
Education is open to the public in a variety of forms. One way to encourage and promote awareness might be to place more emphasis on classes that focus on critical thinking skills. There are many subjects that offer paths to develop the observation and cognitive skills necessary to question and understand the many facets that form a person’s perception of reality. Throughout my time in education I have found that there is a lack of critical thinking skills. How can we expect people to face up to their own realities if they cannot think deeply for themselves? Education is a great place to start to gain the observational and critical thinking skills. Without basic observational skills learned through education how are student expected to use the added skills and tools to help people understand the things around them. Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information generated by observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, and communication as a guide to belief and action. This is key to developing an understanding the need to face reality. The earlier we start teaching it in the process of our educational system, the better off future generations will be.
As a nation we seem to have a push for science, technology, engineering and math. Science is a great way to begin encouraging children to learn observational skills because one needs to be focused. Getting our youth exposed earlier in the education process could potentially open up minds to a greater understanding. Critical thinking is important in all aspects of life. It is critical to science because science only progresses, in the simplest terms, by uncovering the patterns underlying the materials and processes of nature. Loosely speaking, critical thinking requires one to drop biases, prejudices and assumptions for the simple reason that these can all lead one to the wrong conclusion. If a wrong conclusion is reached it is more difficult to face reality. Acquiring these critical thinking skills will allow students to see our society from a variety of perspectives which is how we begin to make change.
Some do not believe we have the resources to make these changes because they will take time, but it is an investment that will pay off. Thoreau proved this by showing a deeper understanding of oneself. Dillard proved this taking the time to look at things even if we do not quite understand them. Jamieson proved this by showing that our actions have consequences and our mortality does not explain it but helps gain a deeper understanding.
Making changes that would directly impact our world, is scary to some because we do not know exactly what the change will bring. But opening up to a possibility of a better tomorrow starts with facing the reality, carefully evaluating the present and working for a better future.