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When competing realities clash, the result can only be tragedy.

By Tran Nguyen Want to learn more about Tran? Read her profile at: http://alpha.tutorlex.com.au/item/tran-nguyen In the beginning, there was God. Or perhaps there was a big bang. Either way, in the beginning and since the beginning, there was disagreement. There never has been and never will be two people who think and see the world in exactly the same way. Take a contentious issue, like the origins of life for instance, and theres bound to be rallying cries of protest and debate. Divorces, border disputes, wars, the opinion page of a newspaper- theyre all the actualisations of our inability to agree. The divergence between what one person believes, thinks and feels to anothers allows for a wonderful diversity of people. However, it also means we can be prone to fighting, conflict and warring. Tragic results can come from the clash between competing realities and the more polarised and ideology or belief, it seems the more devastating the outcome. But why the radical difference? Why cant we just agree? Intuitive subjectivity makes it inevitable that every person has their own individual reality. Facts- the objective truth- seem to be something everyone can agree on but unfortunately the world is not made of facts alone. Life encompasses things cant always be verified or are absolute. Emotions, hopes, desires, personal experience, faith are sometimes not tangible and often far from objective. Yet they are the factors that heavily influence and shape our perception. What makes Merie Spriggs argue for more funding for mental health care while Janine Davis calls for more government spending on education? Perhaps it is because Merie is a doctor at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute while Janine is a mother of three and a school teacher. No doubt it is their experiences and professions that have illumined their impassioned opinions. As renowned social psychologist David G Meyers comments, There is an objective reality out there but we view it through the spectacles of our beliefs, attitudes and values. We draw on our past experiences and memories to help us deal with a new environment, our morals inform us how to act and behave, our emotions filter our view and even our gender can colour the way we perceive a situation. We never attain a fully objective view of reality because we remain trapped in the prison of our subjectivity. Author Ian McEwan makes a commentary on this in his novel Enduring Love, and the idea of conflicting personal realities is paramount. Joe Rose is confronted with a bizarre situation, wherein a lonely stranger professes fanatic love for him. Dissatisfied with his work and craving a return to scientific research, Joe clings tightly to his beloved scientific rationalism, trying to identify the deluded Jeds condition. Joe collects Jeds love letters, arranging them chronologically and even

at one point obsessively going over them, marking significant passages. Driven by his desires and trust in science, Joes reality is disfigured and warped so that everything he sees becomes filtered through his obsession. Likewise, we can be shaped by desires, our culture or religion. With so many influences to shape our identity and perception, we are bound, shackled and chained to forever remain prisoners of our subjectivity. Whats more is that our prisons can become much lonelier places when we isolate ourselves from others with opposing or conflicting perceptions. A precondition for living in this world is to be willing to accept the existence of other ideas or opinions. Refusal to do so ensures a very lonely life. If we cant find a consensus, we seem doomed to lose friendships. American author and playwright Tennessee Williams once mused that hate is a thing, a feeling that can only exist where there is no understanding. Indeed in his own play A Streetcar Named Desire, it is certainly explored how the harmonious interplay of conflicting realities relies on the knowledge there is no absolute way of viewing the world. When the delicate Blanche meets with the brute Stanley, already the two show little understanding and compromise. Stanleys believes hes been swindled while Blanche has already judged Stanley to be as common as dirt. It is in the resolution of the plot- the rape- that the competition and dominance of one reality over another can be seen. Likewise in Enduring Love, Joe refuses to accept his partner, Clarissas competing reality, that Jed may not be a real threat. Their long relationship fragments and frays as Clarissa observes in Joe, you go deeper into yourself and further and further away from me. Joe admits that he has lost faith in the talking cure and its almost inevitable then that the tragic result from the clash of their polar viewpoints is their separation. This is an illustration by author Ian McEwan of the importance of communication and dialogue when opposing perceptions meet. Where competing realities clash, without understanding and acceptance, our relationships disintegrate, and we can suffer tragic isolation and alienation. Further isolation often comes as a result of ignoring an opposing perception or reality, as well as delusion. Perhaps it is a coping mechanism to consciously ignore or block out a disturbing image or event. Trauma patients often lose their memory of the event because the truth may be too confronting to accept. But this self persuasion can have dangerous outcomes. By discriminating against a conflicting reality, we cannot fully appreciate the whole view. Its comparable to seeing though squinted, half closed eyes in fear of seeing the ugly truth. This is a form of self deception and delusion which again the novel Enduring Love provides an insight into. At the core of [Jeds] condition, he had to block out the facts that didnt fit. For his fantasy to survive, to remain crouched in the cell of his own devising, Jed, a sufferer of de Clarambaults

syndrome, lived with his eyes almost completely shut to the reality of the world; only opening them to scrutinise the physical worldfor the correlatives of his current emotional state. Jed reveals a tragic case of delusion that draws many parallels to the wispy Blanche of Williams play. Her traumatic past which she buries in a reconstructed fantasy surfaces in her drinking, her obsessive bathing and avoidance of light. She evades truth, because it is too incongruous with her own desires of being young, beautiful and loved. She relies on illusion to escape the realism that threatens her fragile idealism. For both Jed and Blanche, they eventually end up in mental hospitals after very dramatic struggles. They epitomise that in refusing to accept a competing reality, danger and delusion is often the tragic outcome. Human history repeatedly shows that in trying to maintain peace in a society, when competing realities clash, one reality must dominate another. History textbooks reveal our seemingly ingrained predisposition to hold on so tightly to our beliefs that violence and even death can be the resultant outcome. The struggle, producing an overall winner, merely mirrors a primary function of nature and evolution- those with a greater genetic fitness will win out. In the same way, those with a dominant reality will prevail over those that are weaker or not as socially accepted. Pride, fear of change and refusal to give up the familiarity and meaning our realities give us means that everyone will fight for their reality to dominate. But we live in communities and societies where peace is demanded. As Louise Nevelson asserts, what we call reality is an agreement that people have arrived at to make life more liveable. Blanche and Stanley represent two polar realities. Her rape by Stanley in the resolution of the play is the ultimate culmination of his reality dominating hers. Williams conveys to the audience the suffering and plain inflicted on those who seek to avoid the dominant reality. Because there was no compromise between the harsh realism Stanley represents and the illusion that Blanche personifies, one reality will preside over others so that life can once more again become liveable, for most people. The result can sometimes tragically be violence or hostility and the Cold War is the perfect elucidation of this. The competing ideologies of communism and capitalism resulted in years of antagonism between the Soviet Union and America. In Enduring Love Clarissa remarks in a letter to Joe you saw [Jed] as an opponent and you set about defeating him. Joes reality of the situation dominates as he fights to show the superiority of his beliefs over Jeds or Clarissas. Destroying Jeds reality to validate his own however came at a high cost where both Joe and Jed are almost killed. It can be seen that in the struggle between competing realities, violence is sometimes necessary to allow one reality to dominate another and survive. However, despite all these grim outcomes, when competing realities clash, the result need not be tragic. Although our history dictates conflict to often be the result from

the collision of competing realities, there are many more instances of differing perspectives forming to produce solutions, cures for disease and create beautiful works of art. Throughout Enduring Love there are many minor examples of alternate realities used to ironically mirror the struggle between the main protagonists opinions. In talking of the discovery of DNA, Joe says of those refusing to accept the new model of inheritance- but they couldnt see, they wouldnt see. He details the history of different scientists failing to adopt this new concept. The chemists wouldnt abandon what they already knew and to tolerate the possibility of another idea or concept was beyond them. Stanley too, already seen to be the domineering figure of A Streetcar Named Desire comes together with Stella, of a totally different background, beliefs and values to share love. In other circumstances, such a reality would otherwise compete as it did with Blanche. Stella and Stanleys polar realities collided but instead of violence, there was compromise, perhaps even sacrifice, but ultimately love. Tolerance is necessary for the successful coming together of competing realities, and dialogue too is of great importance. In her letter to Joe, Clarissa sadly reflects that together we might have deflected [Jed]. However their different perceptions could not find a compromise and so their separation comes as a result of this. If we take the example of being trapped in the cell of subjectivity again, we can understand that different perceptions are like different windows for seeing the world. As they physicist Freeman Dyson asserts, the two windows of science and religion give different views but both look out at the same universe. Together the more windows we see through, the greater our awareness of the world. With openmindedness and empathy, the result from the clash of competing realities can be far from tragedy but instead can lead to understanding and a greater appreciation of the world. Society and communities are founded on shared understandings and ideologies. We naturally form in this way to make life more liveable and so we can live in the company of others who share mutual beliefs. However when we refuse to listen to outlying opinions or opposing beliefs, we become susceptible to hostility. Though Joe, Jed and Clarissa all had contrasting realities, they could have worked towards a compromise to avert the tragic end. McEwan emphasises this throughout with constant opportunities for dialogue. But the dismissal of communication results in broken relationships, isolation and even violence. Where hate and ignorance breed conflict and tragedy, tolerance and empathy can bring peace and so, it should be advocated at every chance. And that is something everyone can agree on. Almost. Want to learn more about Tran? Read her profile at: http://alpha.tutorlex.com.au/item/tran-nguyen