Where’s the ‘Real’ in REALITY?

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What a ridiculous question … right? Of course reality contains the ‘real’ elements contained in whatever we’re considering as being reality. Well, let’s take some time to examine this question a little more carefully before we categorically answer it. The dictionary definition of reality is as follows: 1) The state or quality of being real; 2) Resemblance to what is real; 3) A real thing or fact. Those seem to be matter-of-fact definitions that could easily be accepted except ….

Let’s take the example of a child playing with a large box in which some household equipment was shipped. Initially, the box is a space ship, then it transfers into a racecar and then into a farm tractor plowing the field, etc., etc. All of these make-believe conclusions as to what that molded piece of cardboard are made within a matter of minutes … even seconds … of one another. the reality of the box changes at least three times and probably more to fit the fantasies that the child is able to conjure up to satisfy his or her imaginative play.

Now let’s examine the role of a witness to a crime committed right before his eyes in an alley at 7:30 p.m. on September 15th, 2011. As he is interviewed by the police, he swears that what he saw was as clear as it could be and that he was sure that the perpetrator of the crime was the person whom he fingered as being the only one who could have committed the crime. Comes the trial seven months later and the witness is called to the stand by the defense attorney of the man that he identified as being the perpetrator. “Good morning Mr. Smith, could you tell the court what you had for dinner on Sunday, the 14th of September in 2011 please?’ “Well, no, I really can’t … although it probably was a steak since I usually eat steak on Sundays.” “So you’re really not sure, are you?” “No, I’m not.”

“Thank you, now regarding the crime that we’re here to discuss, can you tell the jury where you were standing when the crime was committed?” “Yes, I was standing in the street adjacent to the alleyway.” “And what time was it that you were standing there/” “Oh, I don’t know, maybe about 7:15 p.m.” “How do you know it was that time of day, Sir?” “Well, I had just finished eating dinner with my wife about 7:00 p.m. at our favorite restaurant and we decided to take a walk so I’m guessing it was about 7:15 p.m. and it’s about a 15 minute walk from the restaurant to that alleyway.” ”So, you’re guessing, is that it?” “No, I’m sure it was that time of day.”

“Good, now please tell us how far away from the scene were you standing when you allegedly saw the crime being committed?” “I believe that I would have been about 15 feet away.” “You say ‘about,’ does that mean 17 feet or 13 feet?” “I’m not sure.” “Thank you and now I notice that you are wearing corrective lenses in the courtroom ~ do you always wear eyeglasses?” “No, only for seeing distances.” “I see, and were you wearing your glasses when you viewed the crime?” “No, I was walking and didn’t see the need to wear them … it was a relaxed after-dinner-walk.”

You can see that the traps set by the defense attorney begin to make the witness question what, in fact, he did or didn’t really see.

And so, where is the ‘real’ in the reality of both of these examples. Essentially, it is in all of the perceptions that have evolved in the course of experiencing the ‘reality’ of the situations cited. Therefore, we can say in one sense that there is no reality involved in either of these examples but, of course, there is. “Reality, like beauty, is in the mind of the beholder” is a common truism that is used and, there is truth to its meaning. When I was practicing psychotherapy, I found that a person’s perception of the reality of their problem had become the problem in-and-of itself. In other words, they were stuck seeing their problem in one way and one way only.

I would ask those who were intent on holding onto their perception to rise from their chair, stand in each corner of the room, and describe what it was that they saw from each position. Finally, I would arise from my chair and ask them to sit in it while I sat in their chair across from me. This little exercise helped them to see that there are many alternative ways of looking at the same thing … in this case, their own problem. It helped open their minds to considering other ways of looking at the problem so that they might be able to bring other solutions to bear than they had been stubbornly trying to make work. It was like one shoe fits all in their view of both the problem and the possible solutions. They could only see one and found that there were many.

So, where’s the ‘real’ in reality? It’s in there but it can take many forms depending on where one might be standing, sitting, looking, feeling, thinking, hoping, etc. there’s always more than one way to skin …


Both as a consultant and author, Charles Bonasera’s story-telling have motivated people to change patterns and resolve problems in their lives. All of his books contain valuable, practical lessons that people can easily apply to bettering and managing their lifestyles. He has also written a myriad of articles which can be found on his website at www.charlesmbonasera.com.

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