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Let’s stop being addicted to our own incorrect understanding of reality

Decades ago, when I was still a philosophy student at the University of Buenos Aires, I overheard a conversation between two students at the university’s cafeteria. One of them told the other: “Last week, in Angola, a Cuban man gave me a grenade”.

Due to what was happening in the world at that time, I thought that, unintentionally, I was listening to a mercenary talking about what had happened to him a few days ago on the African continent. I imagined that the young man in question was in an armed conflict. After all, "Angola", "Cuban" and "Granada" allowed that interpretation.

The conversation continued and then it became clear that "Angola" did not refer to the African country of that name, but to a bar near the university, very popular with students. In that bar, one of the people in charge of preparing the drinks was a Cuban man. And "grenade" was one of the drinks prepared by the Cuban bartender.

In short, far from being a case of a mercenary with explosives, the young student was talking about how a few days ago he had gone to a bar in the area and tried a new drink. My mind had misled me, and this time I had the opportunity to obtain additional information to correct my self-deception. However, such an opportunity doesn’t always exist.

That event from decades ago during my time as a college came and went without major consequences. But other misunderstandings can lead to unpleasant consequences for those affected.

For example, recently a woman and a girl were detained and questioned when arriving by plane in Denver because someone from the airline had denounced that the girl was a victim of human trafficking and that the woman was responsible.

The facts were clear, one could even say unobjectionable. The woman was white, and the girl was dark. In addition, the tickets were bought at the last minute. The woman and the girl were the last ones to board the plane and, although they received separate seats, the woman asked to sit next to the girl. During the whole trip they didn’t speak to each other.

Uniformed police officers questioned the woman and the girl separately, convinced that they were rescuing the child from a tragic future. But someone had interpreted the facts incorrectly, to the point of distorting them. In reality, the woman and the girl were a mother and her daughter.

The skin color of mother and daughter differed because the daughter had the skin color of her father. The tickets had been purchased at the last minute because they had been notified of the death of a family member and were traveling to the funeral. That was why they asked to sit together and why they didn’t speak during the trip. It wasn’t human trafficking, but a family in mourning.

Getting addicted to our own interpretation of reality is very dangerous because eventually we come to believe that this is the only possible interpretation.

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