When I was in college I spent a summer studying abroad in Spain. There was a professor from another college leading our group, which was made up of about 20 students from different schools across the country. This professor was originally from Cuba, I think. He had been teaching Spanish at the college level for more than a decade. Somewhere along the way, he married an American woman and started a family. They had two children, the first of which was a girl.
During the summer, our professor related a story to us that has stuck with me ever since. It was about how his daughter learned that he spoke English. For me, it was about much more than that. It was about perspective creating our reality.
Basically, the story went like this:
The professor was at work when he received a call from his daughter’s school informing him that she had been injured and had to be taken to the hospital. They couldn’t reach his wife, and so they called him. The injuries were minor, but she needed stitches. He, of course, dropped everything and took off for the hospital immediately.
Once he arrived at the hospital, he was brought to his daughter’s room where she was being treated by a nurse. After greeting his daughter in Spanish and chatting with her about what happened (all in Spanish), he turned to the nurse and started speaking with her about the status of things… in English.
It was at that moment that his daughter’s entire reality changed.
With wide eyes and a look of disbelief, she gasped and exclaimed in Spanish, “But, Dad – when did you learn to speak English?”
You see, in order to raise their children as bilingual, in their house one parent only spoke in English and one parent only spoke in Spanish. That day in the hospital, when she was about 9 years old, was the first time the daughter had ever heard her father speak in English. For nine years she lived under the assumption that her father only knew Spanish. Her reality was based on her perspective.
And that’s true for the rest of us as well. Our realities are based on our perspectives. Our truth is informed by what we know and see, our experiences, and our environment.
My reality is not the same as my neighbor’s reality. Yes, some things will overlap, but not everything, which means that there is more than one truth, and more importantly, that two or more truths can co-exist, without hierarchy.
What happens when we believe in only one truth, or one way, or one possibility for something, to the exclusion of everyone else around us? Well, we basically negate their existence, because if their truth is not valid, then they are not valid.
It’s a slippery slope, actually, in both directions. And the only way to level it out and make it less slick is to engage in tolerance, discussion, and acceptance.
After all, if perspective is reality, and we don’t know what we don’t know until we know it, how can we suggest that there is only one truth?
Then again, when you strip away the variance in perspectives, more often than not we seem to arrive at a singular truth, which is: Love is at the foundation of creation, while fear is found at the source of destruction.
Unfortunately, differing perspectives often create opportunities for fear, rather than dialogue, and that is the greatest hurdle we have to overcome. Accepting more than one truth, one reality, or one perspective as possible is, therefore, our greatest opportunity for change.