I have a Chinese girl in my class I meet once every week. The first day we met at the orientation, she told me that she was worried about the English spoken and written test every incoming graduate student has to take before they start their research. She asked me if I had similar concerns. I didn’t know the “right” answer to tell her. Yes, I was concerned, but that was not because of the test. It was because I would have to wake up on a Sunday morning and drag myself to write the exam by 8 am. I was more annoyed that the school is not convinced about my English written and spoken abilities, and I could not sleep till late on that Sunday.
I passed the test. She didn’t. It meant that she would have to take an English class once every week for the rest of the semester. Bummer ! If the class load and the research and TA-ing wasn’t bad enough, the last thing you wanted was extra class load. I empathize. The next time we met in class, she came running to me asking to me which day I was assigned to for the English class. I observed that she had assumed I had not passed the test. It broke my heart to tell her that I had, and didn’t need extra English coaching. She didn’t do a good job to hide her disappointment. She looked confused that how could I be exempt from it when she was forced to take it.
Ever since every time I meet her for my research class, she asks me how are my English classes going. It seems her perceived reality has accepted that being an international student, I too had failed my English class. I felt sorry for her, but it unnerved me a little. Last week when I met her in class, I saw her talking to an American student. She was telling her how difficult this part of the semester is with midterms and then pointed to me asked me if I was having a hard time with the extra English class. It seems it had never registered in her mind that I was not taking any English classes. Amidst rectifying her yet once again (to which she looked a little startled), some strange realization dawned on me too. I realized that we all live in our own realities, and sometimes the plane of our realities might not match that of others. Does that mean there is no concept of absolute reality? What is unreal to me might very well be someone else’s reality. Often we hear people recounting stories when we think to ourselves, “This is not possible, is it true?” This is because the things we do not believe in are the things that are beyond the scope of “our” reality.
This girl was clearly upset, not just because she has to take extra classes, but because her reality might be that she thinks she has failed herself by failing the test. So at some point, her reality started to believe that as a non-native English speaker, I had failed the test too, maybe in order to make her pain or guilt less bearable. Whenever she asked me about my English classes, she was very empathetic, and it was clear that she was not making fun of me but genuinely believed that I had failed the test. What she thinks might not be the truth, but it is her reality that she has spun around herself to make it less painful for her.
I looked back at my life and realized I might have done this at some point too, though not to this drastic extent. I might have known things which might not have been true, and on being corrected, I must have asked, “Oh, why did I believe it otherwise then?” Which means while 2 plus 2 is always 4, it might not always be 4 in some of our realities. It is a scary thought, and an equally interesting one. I would love to read up more about psychology and realities if I can find some interesting books. Think about it, how fascinating it would be if each of us lived in our respective realities, and there was no concept of an absolute truth. So though in reality I am a poor, Indian graduate student, in my mind, I could be a princess, a Hollywood actor, or a heart surgeon. Is that what we call the beginning of incipient lunacy?
I am not talking about my classmate anymore, and don’t mean any offence to any non-native English speaker, but why is it that we think some people are crazy? Is it because their plane of reality doesn’t match with ours? How many times have you heard your friend complaining how her famous mathematician husband doesn’t hear what she says, forgets to do household chores when asked to, and lives in his own reality solving problems? Is this how ideas in fantasy movies are conceived, by thinking of ideas that might not align with the realities of most people? My grandmother still does not believe that it is possible for someone to travel around the world alone and not be lost. She also doesn’t believe that it is impossible to board a wrong flight. Like people sometimes get on the wrong train, my grandmother believes it is possible to get on the wrong plane; that you can actually get on a plane and realize after talking to the other passengers that the plane is going to Tokyo while you have a ticket to London. It is her reality. I don’t buy it, I don’t believe it, but it is her reality nevertheless.
Maybe we have our own realities because it makes coping with stressful situations easier. If so, then are dreams borne out of our subconscious realities? So many times I have seen dreams about things I would not admit to in my conscious state. I often dream of snakes when I am stressed. This might be because in real life, I am very scared of snakes, and will neither visit the reptile section of the zoo, nor will get into a discussion involving snakes. Then why do I see something in my dreams that I am scared of in reality? Is this because I push away those things I am scared of in my sub-conscious, and while dreaming when our mental guards are down, those issues come up? Who knows !
If you have read a good book about psychology, dreams, or realities, please let me know.