The idea that we create our own worlds, or choose our own lives, has been overplayed. Americans believe so deeply in independence and individualism that we don’t want to admit that we are dependent on anyone else, even for the way we perceive the world we live in. But our reality is a social construct. We create it piece by piece through the stories we tell, the media we take in, and the institutions we live by, and many of those things are out of our control.
Somewhere along the way, our visions of the world we live in have become divided and foreign to one another. We can live in the same town and yet live in different worlds, with supermarkets and power lines in common, morning traffic jams and planes flying too low overhead, but otherwise, nothing is the same for us. It has reached a point where there is almost no common language among any two people. It is all negotiation of reality, in every interaction. It’s not just about having different religious beliefs, or opinions about politics, it’s almost as if the atmosphere, the oxygen content of the air, changes from person to person, on the same block.
I feel like I move between shimmering, mostly invisible, variations of the world all day long. I can’t keep track of how my point of view changes during the day, until I realize that the world I think I am living in at Five PM is nothing like one I thought I woke up to at Seven AM, when Butterfly licked my elbow and then barked at me when I refused to get up. Part of it comes from me and how I feel, physically and emotionally. The world can seem like a more brutal place when I am in physical pain, no matter what’s going on around me. But part of it comes from the people around me and what they assume about the world we share.
Do we believe that racism is a bad thing, or an obsolete thing, or okay the way it is? Are people allowed to be gay today? Or is it suddenly wrong again? Part of my confusion comes from relying so heavily on the people around me to tell me who we are and how the world is, and not feeling safe enough just to go with my own perspective. I rely on the news media, and Facebook, and TV shows, to help me figure out which world I am living in, and who’s in it with me, so when they mislead me or just get it wrong, I’m in trouble.
I am jealous of people who are able to hold on to their own vision of reality no matter what changes around them. Cricket and Butterfly are great at this, ignoring the news and the anxiety in the air in favor of their predicable daily schedules. For me, it feels like the world is always moving under my feet, like I’m on one of those treadmill-like walkways at the airport, so that even when I stand still and remain the same, the world refuses to remain the same around me.
Even now, I admire the unmitigated gall of a sentence like, We hold these truths to be self-evident. We do? Self-evident? I could never have cobbled together that sentence, not in a thousand drafts. I would have had trouble imagining that I could speak for everyone, or believing that everyone might agree on any one thing. It has become clear over this past year, but also long before that, that truths are not as universally accepted as people would like to believe.
The problem is, no matter what we believe or see or recognize about the world we live in, we are all still living in it. Every day we make big and small decisions. We don’t have endless choices; but then again, the world is not given to us whole and complete either, we help form it, tiny piece by tiny piece: when we stand up against a bully, or stay silent; when we work harder, instead of giving up, because the goal is worth it to us; when we choose to stay home on Election Day, because there are only two choices and we don’t love either one. That’s a choice we’ve made, even if there are others who limited our choices in the first place, or rigged the system, or disappointed us. We can blame other people for the outcome, and we may be right in large part, except, we made our own choices too, and those choices counted, and they helped to create the world we live in today. You matter. I matter. We create this world together every day. And we can do better. Right?