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How beautiful it would be to see man wrestle with his illusions and vanquish them.
- Naguib Mahfouz, Egyptian writer awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988 (1911-2006)
What a spectacle! There's nothing that some people like better than to watch someone destroy themselves. But is that what Mahfouz intended?
Indeed, is it even possible to wrestle with our own illusions without destroying ourselves?
Illusions are all we have to work with when we perceive the world. We believe what we see, hear, taste, touch and smell is the real thing. But it's never the same as someone else who experiences the exact same thing.
One of the closest possible human relationships is marriage. Yet as much as people share in a marriage and as close to sharing the same experiences and goals as people get, when they separate or divorce they seldom think that the relationship failed for the same reasons. Indeed, each usually believes that the other was responsible for the breakup. They don't even remember the same events that were such good experiences the same way.
If you want a real shock, sit a few friends down with you, individually, and ask them to candidly describe you, the kind of person you are, your likes and dislikes, what you are like as a friend, your attitudes toward the world around you. It would be extremely rare for any of them to be accurate or similar. What's more, none will be like your own impression of yourself.
We have not just an opinion about ourselves, but an illusion about who we are. No one else shares that illusion because no one else has or can experience the world around us the same way we have or do. Even the timing of experiences affects our impressions of reality. The same experience in early childhood is perceived much differently in adulthood.
When we go to sleep, we dream a kind of reality that we can't support as "real" when we are awake. Yet the truth is that no one is certain which is reality and which is mere illusion, the wakeful perceptions or the dreams. Our brains function differently when we dream than when we are awake. Even our own brain can't tell which is real to it and which is not. To our brain, both are real, just different realities.
Most of us convince ourselves that our waking experiences are the real ones, but that is what we have been taught since early childhood. ("It's only a dream. It's not real.")
Mahfouz meant that it would be beautiful if we were to tackle our misguided illusions and vanquish them. That is, the ones that are too far away from the reality that others perceive of us. In his way he is saying that he wants us all to deal with the realities of the world in the same way, as if we were each one component of a greater entity or reality.
Would that make us all followers, pets of a greater power that determines the fates of all of us? Some believe that to be true anyway. Others believe that free will is our blessing.
No matter which way we choose for our life, we choose our own illusions. If that is the case, it only makes sense to choose the ones that will serve us well over the long term, instead of the many harmful components that people choose for themselves for the short term.
And how long is the long term anyway? Some say it ends when we die. Others say that this life is but one small part of a continuum or that this life is an individual experience set that we will use when we rejoin the greater entity after death.
Choose your illusions wisely.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about guiding children to create safe and productive personal illusions for their lives so that they can be confident and competent adults.
Learn more at http://billallin.com