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Our Idea of Reality - Nightingale

Another essay by Earl Nightingale from the How to Completely Change Your Life Series

Our Idea of Reality

Let me quote something found in Carl Sandburg’s account of the Kansas sodbuster. Who was that early sodbuster in Kansas? He leaned at the gate post and studied the horizon and figured out what corn might do next year and tried to calculate why God ever made the grasshopper, and why two days of hot winds smothered the life out of a stand of wheat, and why there was such a spread between what he got for grain and the price quoted in Chicago and New York. As he was contemplating these notions, a new-comer drove up in a covered wagon.

“What kind of folks live around here?” he asked.

“Well, stranger,” said the sodbuster, “what kind of folks was there in the country you come from?"

“Well, there was mostly a low-down, lying, thieving, gossiping, backbiting lot of people."

After a few seconds of reflection, the sodbuster replied: “Well, I guess stranger, that’s about the kind of folks you’ll find around here."

And the stranger had just about blended into the dusty gray cottonwoods becoming a clump on the horizon, when another newcomer drove up.

“What kind of folks live around here?” the stranger asked.

And again the sodbuster replied, “Well, stranger, what kind of folks was there in the country you come from?"

The friendly stranger said with a smile: “Well, there was mostly a decent, hardworking, law abiding, friendly lot of people."

And again the sodbuster said, “Well, I guess stranger, that’s about the kind of folks you’ll find around here."

And the second wagon moved off and blended with the dusty gray cottonwoods on the horizon while the early sodbuster leaned at his gatepost and tried to figure out why two days of hot winds smothered the life out of a nice stand of wheat.

Noel McGinnis tells us that what Carl Sandburg means here is that the world cooperates with us by conforming to our expectations of it. The classic example of this is, of course, the paranoid who suspects that everyone’s against him and who, therefore, relates to people in such a way that they’re bound to be against him.

Psychologists have demonstrated that our idea of reality is determined by our perception of things, the way our senses interpret things, rather than the way things really are. Edward T. Hall has written that the relationship between man and the cultural dimension is one in which both man and his environment participate in molding each other. Man is now in the position of actually creating the total world in which he lives. In creating this world, he is actually determining what kind of an organism he’ll be.

Carl Sandburg, Dorothy Lee, Benjamin Lee Warth, Edward Hall and numerous others have told us in essence that we create our own space. Now what does this mean? Well, as with Albert Einstein, it means that space is relative. Unlike Newtonian physicists, Einstein did not conceive of space as an absolute entity in relation to which things were organized. Quite the contrary, he defines space as the relationship that exists among things as a result of their organization.

Well, the tendency for reality to be a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than an absolute given has been explained by some modern anthropologists. Dorothy Lee does a good job of it in Freedom and Culture. And what all this means for you and me is that our individual worlds will respond to us in the way in which we see them. They will become for us what we expect of them. We are the creators of our own surroundings.

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