On Being a Realist

Following a talk recently on Managing from the Inside Out, the person who had introduced me to the audience and organised a question time, said ‘you’re an idealist, aren’t you?’ I responded ‘on the contrary, I’m a realist but I live in a world where many people confuse illusion with reality’. For example, the most common illusions are:

  • Money brings happiness (the American dream)
  • Success brings happiness
  • Marriage brings happiness
  • Achievements bring happiness
  • Ideas bring happiness
  • Wealth brings happiness
  • Power brings happiness
  • Celebrity brings happiness
  • Religion brings happiness
  • Work brings happiness
  • Possessions bring happiness

The interesting thing is when you examine the above list it becomes clear – for me anyway – that these pursuits are socially acquired addictions! I call them process addictions! For example, the Western World’s dream is about money. The reality is that so many of those individuals who strive to reach summits of personal achievement and success are still empty, desperate and soulless. Neither do the other addictions listed ever totally manage to fill the void within, and result in no significance being given to one’s true self and to the person of children, partner, employee, to parishioners and to students. In many ways, these process addictions are just as blocking of people’s mature progress as substance addictions – alcohol, drugs and food. However, there is a need for compassion here – for no individual creates an illusion – an addiction – without having experienced major threats to being real and authentic. Indeed, the illusions are a means of reducing the impact of the harsh realities experienced. When adult I need to explore my own illusions and addictions and attempt to get back to reality and to free myself of the illusions I cleverly created in order to survive.  I also need to return to those who operated from their addictive places their actions towards me and determine to live my life from the inner significance of my own being and not confuse my worth with anything I do, say, think, feel, achieve or experience. I also need to see other people for their true self and not confuse their presence with what they do. It is in these ways I am a realist, but this is a realism that others who live in illusional worlds can be very threatened by. When illusions reduce the pain of emotional abandonment and unrealistic expectations, it is wisely a difficult task to embrace realism. Relational depth needs to be created for people to emerge from the hidden worlds of illusion to the open and free world of realism. After all it was the confusion of being mistaken for certain behaviours that necessitated illusion; the resolution lies in infusion – seeing a person for his or her true self.

I readily understand when an individual calls me an idealist, because I know they have intelligently found a way to distance themselves from the realities of what I’m saying or doing. There is not yet sufficient emotional and social security for them to make the connection between their own driven lives and their illusions and addictions. What is important is that I wait patiently for them to become present to the reality of their individual presence and continue to transform my own life from illusion to realism.

How do we know when we are living our lives on real as opposed to ideal and illusional ways? The truth is that we are always spilling the beans on where we are within ourselves but we will only hear and see that when we begin to live in the real world. For example, ‘people are our greatest asset’ is a popular espoused value of the corporate sector. Though this value is written into mission statements, spoken about and repeated by thousands of people every day, the evidence for it is just not there. Until we value people as our greatest asset – within family, church, school, workplaces, society, we will stay with the illusions and not embrace reality. This change can only happen from the inside out and can only happen when we examine our actual behaviour – our illusions – and see that we are missing out on what is vital for our total wellbeing – the cherishing of each individual person.

Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist, is an author and national and international speaker. Relationship, Relationship, Relationship – Heart of a Mature Society is relevant to this article.