Whose Reality Is It?

One popular phrase I disdain is when people tell me… “the reality is…”

It’s as if the speaker wants me to know that there is just one explanation for an event or phenomenon and not surprisingly, the speakers’ perspective is the correct one. I always think to myself, “No, that is not the reality, it is your reality”

Anna Devere-Smith, the acclaimed actress and McArthur “genius” was in town last week bringing her unique approach to dealing with multiple realities, to the August Wilson Center.

Her performances, which have created a new genre in American theater, are based on interviews she conducts with people who have experienced an event from various different points of view; a prisoner, a guard, a man who took a video of police manhandling a black man. She then steps into the shoes of the person and using their language and accent, becomes that person for the audience.

In two portrayals Anna presented the perspective of John Lewis the civil rights icon and US congressman and that of a young southern police chief who was not even born at the time of the civil rights marches. Anna speaking in the voice of the police chief apologized to Lewis, “that’s not right what happened to you. It’s not the kind of police force I want to be heading up.” He asked Lewis to forgive the city and the police force. In the voice of Lewis, Anna accepted his apology. Some people would have said in that situation, – “the reality was…” but Ms. Devere-Smith’s portrayals allowed the audience to experience more than one perspective or reality.

Being resilient means honoring the multiple perspectives that exist in our world. Unless you’re talking about physics or math (and some of those experts disagree occasionally) there are few absolute realities in the world. We can stop spinning our wheels trying to convince people that our point of view is the one and only right one, and listen to others long enough to understand theirs, and in the process, gain a fuller perspective of the greater reality.

© Richard Citrin, All rights reserved, 2018

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