Reality Matters: This I Believe

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“Understand, this isn’t a matter of preference or bias, of choosing liberal views over conservative ones. It’s a denial of truth; an unwillingness to accept the world as it is; a deliberate choice to value a manufactured perception over reality.”

Reality Matters: This I Believe

I believe reality matters—what’s actually happening in time and space. That may sound strange, but massive swaths of the American public don’t.

We often hear the meme “perception is reality,” but that isn’t true. Nor is it helpful.

I realized this my first few years teaching, trying to connect with the “bad students.” You know, the kids who don’t do their homework, never have a pencil, don’t pay attention, distract their classmates? My initial perception was that they just didn’t care; that they were making a deliberate choice to fail; that it wasn’t much worth the time bothering to help people that didn’t want to help themselves.

And then one day, having pulled one of these students in the hall and starting to launch into the usual moralizing speech on what they were doing wrong and why they should be ashamed of themselves, I stopped.

Exasperated, I asked a simple question: “What’s going on?”

He looked at me. “What do you mean?” But his eyes told me he didn’t think I wanted to hear it.

“Seriously. Face value. What’s going on? How are you doing?”

He paused a moment, then answered.

It was shocking, and at the same time, typical. A tale of living in abject poverty—moving from place to place, scrounging meals from restaurant dumpsters, using his oversize ski coat as a pillow; about a mother who’d been addicted to meth, about babysitting his infant sister so she could work now that she was on the path to recovery.

The reality? This kid had bigger problems than remembering to bring a pencil and paper to school, or writing an essay on “Julius Caesar.” It wasn’t what his family would have for dinner; it was whether or not they’d have dinner. It wasn’t if he’d cleaned his room; it was whether or not there’d be a roof over his head when he went to sleep at night.

Sure, he still needed to do his work—doubly important given his circumstances—but my perception was in the way. His reality mattered. It wasn’t about feeling sorry for him (although I did). It was about how I could help him, how I could be a better teacher.

Since that day, I’ve always asked this question–not just to the “problem” students, but to all of them when I remember, when the time seems right, and it’s been humbling and enlightening. Sometimes they admit they’re just screwing around for no good reason, but even in touching that reality–in acknowledging it–we’re closer to solving their problem in school. More often than not, however, students that act out are facing a difficult situation in some aspect of their life, and their unable to focus on school because, well, reality matters.

Indeed, reality matters for all of us. Belief and perception may guide what we buy or who we vote for, but we can’t escape what’s actually happening. Reality always wins—it’s just a matter of time.

Which is why I’m so concerned. Our nation faces a number of very real problems: climate change, wage and wealth inequality, student debt, the cost of college, a decaying infrastructure, racial injustice, gun violence, terrorism, immigration, etc. And yet, so many Americans are focused on nonsense. So many trust bad news sources, believe blatant falsehoods, spend time pointing fingers at the guy in front of him while the same, big monied interests pick their pockets. They’ve got people absolutely furious about things no more real than unicorns, leprechauns, or Big Foot.

It’s not just people on the fringe either—it’s as mainstream as one of our two major political parties.

I’m talking, of course, about Republicans. Consider the widespread belief among conservatives that voting fraud is rampant, even though a recent study found only 31 instances in over billion ballots cast. Absurd.

But it doesn’t end there. Many Republicans deny climate change, assert there’s a war on police (there isn’t), believe President Obama’s a Muslim, wasn’t born in the U.S., or both, etc.

Understand, this isn’t a matter of preference or bias, of choosing liberal views over conservative ones. It’s a denial of truth; an unwillingness to accept the world as it is; a deliberate choice to value a manufactured perception over reality.

Because there’s an important and legitimate place for a conservative approach to government, for a party that advocates for states rights, low taxes, and individual freedoms. And conservatives have some legitimate gripes: some businesses are overburdened by regulations; we need to reform our immigration system; there’s too much corruption and graft in Washington.

But those values aren’t any good if they’re not based in reality. The root of every problem is not simply “Obama” or “liberals” or “Democrats.” Nikki Haley, in the Republican Response to the State of the Union, suggested Obamacare was a “disastrous” health care law… but that’s just not the case. Are their problems? Sure. Is the law perfect? Absolutely not. But to insist that expandng healthcare to more than 17 million Americans by instituting a law that’s slowed the increase in healthcare spending even while costing less than projected is “disastrous” is not just absurd, it’s dangerously irresponsible. Indeed it’s tragic, because in states where Republican governors and/or legislatures haven’t expanded Medicaid under the ACA, people are dying—not because they had to, but because the Republican Party and it’s voters deny and reject reality when it doesn’t fit into their worldview. People are dying because of a political choice to ignore reality.

It’s also unbelievably counterproductive.

To begin with, policies crafted to address false perceptions won’t work, because they aren’t real—it’s the same with resistance to policies that are effective. Moreover, we can’t solve problems we ignore. We can’t solve problems we deny exist. There may be fantastic conservative polices that address wage and wealth inequality, but the current Republican Party will never propose those solutions because they don’t acknowledge economic inequality, nor it’s causes, as problems.

And their voters are too busy screaming at welfare recipients to hold them accountable.

This doesn’t get better until people wake up, until we start asking each other, “what’s going on?” And then whatever the answer is, we have to accept it, whether it’s the answer we wanted to hear or not.

Because Reality matters. This I believe.

If you like what we’re doing here at ChuckingRocks.com, please help us out by making a donation. Every dollar counts. If you can’t make a donation at this time, the other way you can help us is to spread the word–so please, like, share, email, tweet, and/or retweet our posts. Remember to follow us on twitter @chuckingrocks or email us: chuckingrocks.com@gmail.com.

About The Author: Jay Scott

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