“The real world is not easy to live in” (Clarence Day).
FACTS ARE STUBBORN THINGS, AS JOHN ADAMS ONCE TOLD THE JURY IN A FAMOUS TRIAL. We may deny reality, run away from it, or suppress it, but the facts are still there to be dealt with. Philip K. Dick defined reality this way: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” What this means, in practice, is that there is a certain hardness to reality. “The real world is not easy to live in,” as Clarence Day said. It presents us with challenges that call for intelligence, determination, and fortitude.
Truth is more than appearances. Most of us are world-class athletes when it comes to the sport of conclusion-jumping. We leap to erroneous conclusions very quickly. But if we’re committed to reality, we will look a little deeper. In any situation, what is really going on is probably different from what seems to be going on. First impressions, outward appearances, and superficial judgments can be misleading.
Truth is more than personal preferences. “How reluctantly the mind consents to reality!” exclaimed Norman Douglas. It’s true. When our wishful thinking collides with reality, rather than yielding to reality, we simply pretend that it is whatever we want it to be. But make-believe is foolish. As hard as it is, we have to come to grips with reality.
Truth is more than opinion polls. As a student of philosophy, I used to have a hard time understanding why, if some things are real, everybody doesn’t agree that they are real. But there is no reality that commands universal assent, and as the Danish proverb says, “The sky is not less blue because the blind man does not see it.” We can’t afford to reduce our beliefs to the little, if anything, that everybody believes.
So we must be willing to deal with what is, in fact, true. What is true may not be what we prefer, it may not be what we first thought was true, and it may not be what many other people accept. But if a thing is true, we need to have both the humility and the courage to acknowledge it. We are free to work toward a better reality and move any situation closer to what it ought to be, but we dare not lose touch with the reality of our circumstances as they presently are.
“Mental Health Rule No. 5 — Balance fantasy with fact. Dream but also do; wish but build; imagine but ever face reality” (Joseph Fetterman).