The relatively recent advent of psychology (~1900) and the popularization of Eastern thought in the West (beginning in the 1960s) has contributed to an epidemic misunderstanding of the Buddha’s teachings: “perception is reality.” This is an increasingly popular tenet among younger generations, modern spiritualists, and, as a result, world culture.
While the Buddha did teach about how to disentangle from the mind’s compulsion to distort reality, one throws the Buddha out with the bathwater when asserting he taught that the mind in any way creates reality at an essential level, and that there is no objective-way-things-are. The mind creates your reality, he taught—not the reality—and the path of enlightenment was to experience reality directly without the distortion of mind, rather than to realize a childish arbitrariness of all experience.
It’s remarkable to me how so many intelligent Westerners can clearly see the ways in which organized religion has distorted the original teachings of prophets like Muhammad and Jesus, but don’t seriously consider that the same distortion has happened with the dharma teachers of the East.
Of course, in the end, people usually believe what’s comfortable over what’s true, and it’s easy to see how the Appeal to Subjective Reality is one of the most powerful deflections there is. It literally undermines accountability at an existential level.
Here is the thinking that eventually led us to the “alternative fact.” It’s the convenient invocation of the subjective uniqueness of individual experience in a moment of objective accountability to the facts.
In his book, The Four Agreements, author and teacher Don Miguel Ruiz uses this deflection as the second pillar of his model:
Agreement 2: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
Is there truth and usefulness to this perspective? Undoubtedly. Is it absolutely true or accurately stated? Not even close. I’ve often seen people utilize this agreement is as follows:
- When someone says something good about you, that’s about you. Enjoy!
- When someone says something bad about you, that’s about them. Dismiss!
To rigorously follow the agreement as written, one would have to disregard all feedback from others as irrelevant. But it’s an observable fact that other people are a valuable resource to both validate our gifts and reflect to us our weaknesses. In other words, this idea summarily invalidates feedback and therefore accountability of all kinds.
Try running a business that way, waiting around for people to arrive at all insights, discoveries, and truths completely on their own! We need each other to see ourselves.
At the time of this writing, Ruiz’s book has sold over six million copies, but he is just one of many misguided teachers pandering to a population eager to justify irresponsibility.
The Appeal to Subjective Reality excuse can show up in many ways. When the facts are not disputable and a manager is asserting his/her authority, the following phrases are blatantly inappropriate:
- “How you heard the tone of my voice is just your interpretation.”
- “Well, that’s just your opinion.”
- “I guess I just see it differently.”
- “You have preconceived notions about me that are affecting your judgment.”
This excuse invalidates the authority of the manager, who is implicitly the authority on what the facts are. Managers today must do something with employees that they often don’t think they should have to: remind the employee who the boss is, and which reality wins in a disagreement.
If you’re finding excuses like this cropping up in your business or personal life, perhaps you should consider joining the Clear and Open Dojo. We’re a community of high-performance professionals supporting each other to cut through bullshit excuses in the pursuit of excellence.