Fact or Fiction? Frame of Reference, Objective VS Subjective?

This is a question I try to teach my grandchildren. At such young ages, do they get it?

Sandy Taradash
Sandy Taradash

Do you hammer the difference between objective vs subjective into them, keep referring to “frame of reference,” or do you just let them learn on their own? Oy vey! What’s a Baby Boomer Bubbe to do?

Back in June there was a parasha, Sh’lach Lecha, about G-d commanding Moses to send twelve leaders, one from each tribe, to scout out Canaan. Moses compiled a list for each leader to find specific answers to certain questions so the they would be prepared when they entered the new land.

The questions seemed pretty straight forward, ones you might ask yourself when moving to a new state, city or neighborhood, like: Is this a good place to raise my family? Who are the people who live here? What are the resources in this town—is there a Target and Starbucks, are there parks and bike trails?

Moses wanted detailed accounts from the leaders observations but it seemed something got lost in the translation and the scouts didn’t stick to the facts but assessed the situation through their own frame of reference filled with subjective views. Moses wanted facts and what he got were various observations, like: The land is flowing with milk and honey; the people are giants and devour their settlers; the cities are large.

There was disagreement from the leaders on what they saw and observed and Moses realized he was not getting facts but opinions, objective vs subjective. So is the way of the world, in the old days and the present day! Who among us is so clear to only think factually without the place we come from as our frame of reference? How can ten people view one event and have 20 different accounts? Put five Jews in a room and there will be 10 opinions!

Before my senior year in high school, I was elected editor of the school newspaper and given a scholarship to USC for a summer journalism class, a time I will never forget. My most important take-away from that class was the morning the teacher was lecturing and suddenly three older students ran in screaming that all their camera equipment had just been stolen from the photography department! They rattled on and on about how many items were taken, how many people were the perpetrators, what they looked like, what they were wearing, how long they held the students in a corner, what they threatened them with! All the journalism students sat in stunned silence and watched as this drama unfolded—yes, a drama! Suddenly our professor turned to the class and said, “Write a feature story on what you just witnessed!”

As a class there was utter amazement and silence as we took in what the teacher just said—as it was drama! This was a staged performance by the drama department as a learning presentation to us! Upon completion of our assignment, each student had to read his/her article and needless to say not two versions coincided with anyone else’s!!! We all saw and heard the same exact event—but did we? How could some of us say three people came into the class while some said four? How did six students hear there were five perpetrators and others remembered three? Were they tall or short? Men or women? Out of twenty four students in the class, there was no consensus of facts. A lesson I’ve never forgotten: Look! Listen!

In the The Everyday Torah: Weekly Reflections and Inspirations, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson writes, “The very act of identifying and articulating facts rests on interpretation, imagination and emotion and that the process of intuiting emotion or imagination rests on information, reason and sense of perception. The objective and subjective meet and mingle in the human dance of thinking/feeling/doing.”

How do we as humans get lost in our feelings that allow us to taint facts and turn our muddled emotions into the gospel? While participating in business meetings are there times we hear ourselves say, “This guy is nuts! He doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” when really we are interpreting our personal perception and experiences into the mix which could discount the true blue facts.

A great tool might be to keep our “frame of reference” in a key position while discerning facts, know where “we” come from! A child of a single parent family doesn’t have all the insight of a family of two parents at home which could alter his/her conception of “family”
and the reverse! A co-worker growing up outside the United States may view our cultural lingo as nonsensical and insulting, like, “Duhhhhhhhhhhh?” (In reality, what does “duh?” mean? I laugh when Baby Boomers use this expression as I think of it as my kid’s generation, Brady Bunch era!)

Being objective is really difficult, how do we learn to be objective and still feel human? I’ve always believed that if you have no opinions, you must be dead, for all humans are entitled to opinions! The trick in staying neutral is to allow others their opinion and agree to disagree! We come from different places, different experiences, different locales, different times so how can we all think the same? Anyone remember the Stepford Wives? And I’m always amazed when parents say, “But I raised my kids the same! So how are they so different?” Nothing in time is the same, each second, minute, hour and day and generation IS different. None of us have the same experiences ever, one little iota will be different and alter our perception.

I guess the lesson in all this is the best way to get along with people, the most complicated animals on earth, is to think outside the box and give room for ourselves and others to think differently. Ask the right questions before making definite conclusions, have an open mind to “the other” whether it be lifestyle, ideas, thinking processes, and always communicate, even if there are differences going into the conversation. Communicating is really the key to understanding others and giving understanding.

Reality is not necessarily truth, for there are a multitude of truths and realities. I have mine and you have yours and that’s OK! As Rabbi Artson tells us, “We cannot, nor should we, rely on ourselves to see the world through a lens of certainty.” That’s why we have computers and cell phones today! We learn more information to add to our conclusions!

Wow, imagine what Moses could have done with the technology of today?! Oy vey! What’s a Baby Boomer Bubbe to do?


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