Tag Archives: slaughterhouse five

Can’t escape my head…

For good or bad, we are all prisoners of our own realities. Our own conceptions of a world that exists outside of what we deem to be our essence are unique, and wholly belong to us. Attempts to understand the reality of others can be quite difficult, if not impossible. I am struck by the writing of Kurt Vonnegut when considering personal perceptions (or species perceptions). In Slaughterhouse Five, Billy Pilgram interacts with an alien race, the Tralfamadorians. Unlike humans, this species of alien sees all of history and future. Contrary to this, humans are… cursed… to see only the moment. Vonnegut creates a metaphor for our viewpoint such that we have our heads encased in a metal sphere. There is an eyehole, but a six foot long steel pipe is welded to the steel helmet, so what is actually seen is a microscopic portion of what exists. We cannot turn our heads and we are on a train. Progressing at a constant speed without any hope for change.

Now, without considering the beauty or intricacies that we are surely missing if this model is as true as it appears to be, why does it matter? So what if what I see is only a portion of what may be considered a “grand reality” or “virtuos understanding”? I am unable to give an answer to this, for in the run of daily life, it probably means very little to any individual. Human interactions will continue to be strained, and in part are stressed, by this very fact. Our realities are quite variable and it is through these perceptions that we gauge the world that we live in. These understandings of the inner workings of our environments govern our behavior. And because of the relation between these thoughts and our behavior, it is an understatement to say that we tend to obscure our true beliefs. Freud proposes that some of these realities are even hidden from our conscious self.

One more time, so what? This is how we see the world and how our interactions will occur. However, consider therapy, in particular the person-centered therapy designed and utilized by Carl Rogers. A basic concept of this process is trust- and beyond that congruence, an unconditional positive regard, and empathy. For successful growth and development with both clinical and sub-clinical patients, it is understandable how these would be essential sentiments in the setting. The proper setting or climate is developed using the above mentioned concepts which, in accord with reflection strategies, permits a client to perform the proper introspection to essentially solve their own problems. The therapist is providing an unbiased atmosphere where the client is free to reveal their understandings of the world. They are encouraged to probe their own minds to understand what they think and feel.

Reflection, thought, and an increased self-value and confidence can be sufficient change to develop more healthy realities (whether or not they are truly right or wrong… does not appear to be something that we can truly determine. Is one reality right simply because the majority of people hold that belief? No. Proof of this can be found in many political parties throughout time that committed atrocities but maintained a high level of support). To return to the metaphor, effective therapy is being free to move our heads around and see more. We probably still have the helmet on, but being free to acknowledge more of the world than what we normally see as the train drones on is powerful. Seeing beyond our own reality is powerful. Simply considering what is outside of ourselves is powerful.