2006-08-11 / Columnists

The Inner Voice

by Marilyn Gelfand

These days it is often difficult to tell the difference between perception and fact.

News reporters present their spin as fact, and information on the internet is often accepted as reality with no substantiation. We have talking heads and experts everywhere who instruct us on the right way to walk and eat which used to be natural to people.

We are always doubting ourselves because we may not know what's best. Child rearing practices, beauty standards, fashion, the work ethic are often presented as facts within each generation with little room for variation.

I was talking on the same day to two cousins of mine who are sisters on the health condition of their father. One told me he was okay and that he went out for breakfast with his wife.

The other told me that she was beeped all day by his wife, he's in terrible shape, and he fell out of bed and the wife needed help to lift him and the end is near as his mind has been terribly affected. I couldn't believe I was hearing such different versions of the day's events about the same person!

Either the wife treated the sisters differently or they had different ways of handling their emotions over the impending death of their father.

Either way, I was given two different impressions, which I will always remember when someone tells me something as a description of an actual event.

The most I can know about what is happening is what the person relating the events tells me. It is really just her perception. We must remember that repetition or forceful authoritarian speech does not turn an opinion or viewpoint into a reality.

Years ago, I saw a play "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well in Paris."

This play was all cabaret songs. A friend of mine told me it wasn't a musical, but a drama.

I said I had already seen the play and it was all music. My friend didn't care since he knew it wasn't a musical. He said it so forcefully, that I had to laugh since I almost believed him, and I had already known the facts.

People don't want to change what they think is real. T

he NY Times has had a few writers who created fictitious news stories, had to hire an ombudsman since there was a lot of criticism of bias and has recently done some reporting which some think jeopardizes the safety of this country.

However I know several people who believe that the paper is neutral and is balanced because they always believed it to be so.

The facts didn't change their impression of what they believe is reality one iota.

What's important is that we can tell what is real to us.

Our instincts may lead us through all the difficult versions of the same event. Just by knowing that "history is written by the victor," for example, we can step back and already be detached from descriptions.

We can try to get to the bottom of exactly what the facts are in any given situation ourselves or just keep in mind that we are dealing with perceptions so things can change.

As long as we are not parrots spouting what we are told, we have a chance of formulating a decision that will lead us to a good place.

I eat butter; my other family members eat margarine and we all think we are doing the right thing.

It works, and we are all happy.

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