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Are You Living In your Own World? By Judith Johnson

Each one of us is the star, producer, director and audience of our very own feature film in the theater of our mind. It’s like living in our own parallel universe. There is the “real world” — within which we all exist and interact with one another — and then, within each of us, there occurs a creative interpretation of reality that may or may not bear any resemblance to objective reality or to the creative interpretation of others. Our ongoing emotional and ideological responses reflect who we think we are and what we think is going on. That creates our inner movie — a refracted reflection of reality that serves as the foundation upon which we base our actions and reactions in our shared world. The implications of this are enormous.

When we become too insulated in our own little world, we lose contact with other people and lose sight of the importance of their wants and needs, hopes and dreams and and their ability to contribute to our shared world. We also tend not to notice how our way of being is impacting them. One of life’s greatest challenges is striking a balance between living in our very own unique world and cohabitating in a shared world — bearing responsibility for our contribution. So, I have two questions for you:

What goes on in the theater of your mind?

What are you contributing to our shared world?

We have a tendency to think in polarities: “I am right and you are wrong if you disagree with me.” Many of us go about our lives assuming that our inner movie is pretty darn close to objective reality, that anyone whose inner movie tells them otherwise is way off the mark. It takes some skill, wisdom, sensitivity, compassion and humility to recognize that we are each a product of our unique blend of nature and nurture — not inherently better or worse than others, but different. Even identical twins have their dissimilarities. Each of us lives what we believe and what we learn. As in Rumi’s allegory about the blind men and the elephant, no two people have the exact same point of view. As a result, we see what we see. It can be difficult to convince us otherwise.

The fact is, we can’t get anywhere near the whole picture until we get out of our own little monologue and truly listen to, and take into consideration, the point of view of others. It is very easy to jump to conclusions about the thoughts, beliefs, motivation and actions of others — based solely on our own interpretation. It can be very educational and yield far better results to consider what movies others are watching and why.

How often have you gotten into a misunderstanding in your business or personal life where one person misread the other’s motives, intentions or integrity? It happens all the time. I remember a time when I was working in Corporate America and there was a major change of management in my division. I happened to run into our new leader at the elevator one day, and he asked me, “Are they keeping you busy over there?” I naively responded with honesty: “Unfortunately no, and that concerns me.” The next day I arrived at work to find that my boss was in our division head’s office fighting to save my job. The big boss wanted me fired for insubordination. He settled for an apology which I gave, knowing that I didn’t owe him one but needing to keep my job. How different that experience might have been, had he taken my words as sincere and wanted to know more about why I felt as I did. After all, I was telling him that — as one of his resources — I was being underutilized.

It’s good to get out and about from your own inner theater. If you don’t, your myopic focus is likely to make you a very selfish and self-centered person, who contributes little positive nature to the rest of the world. Get out! Be challenged, and enrich your point of view through intentional and meaningful exposure to the worlds that others live in. Try caring about the well-being of others, even if you don’t know them. It is essential to consider that the inner movies of others are worth taking into account when trying to get along and play nice.

Consider the collective impact of our selfishness. Just as my new division head missed the opportunity to make me a more productive member of his team, we do the very same thing when we dismiss the needs and concerns of others. Just imagine what we could create, promote and allow in our collective world if we understood the power of loving, caring and sharing as ways to unite and empower us all. When we silence and suppress one another, as in political debates, we miss the point. When we contribute our knowledge and skills to creating a collective, where all individuals are fully supported in being productive members of society, we build a rich and rewarding shared world.

I think we go way off track when we interact primarily from our mind and ego and place our concern on getting other people to agree with us. When we encounter differences in opinion from this point of view, we attempt to dominate and silence one another. When we allow ourselves to also connect through our hearts and souls, we seek to understand, to care and to find a solution and a way to participate that serves the highest good of all concerned. Whether disagreeing with our partner, or those who vote differently than us, we need to learn how to appreciate, support, embrace and be kind to those who walk to the beat of a different drum.

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