The truth lies between the lines

If you can stay awake for the first 20 minutes of the movie, Life of Pi, it becomes an interesting film. The book of the same name is beautifully written and much more captivating. Books seem to get lost in translation to a movie, given they have to fit the story into the attention span of the average moviegoer. It's such a passive medium compared to how a book massages your mind: makes you work.

But this column is not dedicated to critiquing movies. (Mind you, I've always wanted to be a restaurant, book, movie or travel critic and it was nice to indulge myself).

Without going into too much detail, a young boy gets shipwrecked and survives in an open boat for 227 days. During the investigation of the sinking of the ship, the investigators don't like the story he tells. It is of initially escaping the ship with a Bengal tiger, a zebra, a hyena and an orangutan. The zebra has a broken leg and is eventually eaten, the hyena kills the orangutan and the tiger kills and eats the hyena. In the end only the boy and the tiger survive and he finds ways not to be eaten by the tiger. Needless to say he learns lots of things about himself during his adventure. The tiger eventually wanders off into the jungle when they finally hit land. The investigators don't like this story. So he tells another where he escapes with his mother, the cook and a sailor with a broken leg. He tells how the cook kills his mother and the sailor, and that he eventually kills the cook. Clearly the characters and animals are interchangeable in the two stories: Cook-hyena; orangutan-mother; sailor-zebra; tiger-Pi himself.

For me, there are two dimensions to this story other than the obvious one of learning about yourself when confronted with adversity. The first is the wonder of metaphors and how we can learn so much from them. I was disappointed that the metaphor was explained in the movie by a dorky journalist. For me, metaphors should not be explained but left to the listener to make sense of. Metaphors are immensely powerful and I use them all the time to help people change their behaviour.

The second dimension is that reality is in the eye of the beholder and we interpret it in myriad ways. I cannot tell you the number of times that I have had people tell completely different versions of events about their relationship, their experience in the workplace or whatever the situation is. Their stories can be so different you would be forgiven for thinking that they were not even in the same universe.

One thing I learnt early in my career as a psychologist is to listen intently with one ear. The other is listening for the other version, the other story or stories. Reality is likely to be somewhere in between zero and nine, on a scale of ten.

And then there is the problem of which story the listener chooses to accept. The choice is inevitably flawed by their own predilections; what he or she wants to believe. A human frailty that the media, advertisers, and spin doctors use to great effect every day: spinning our experience to their own ends.

When you think of it, it's a wonder we manage to get anything done given we are all seeing the world and what happens in such completely different ways. Perhaps reality doesn't matter at all.

 

Dr Stewart Hase is an Adjunct Fellow with Southern Cross University and a consultant psychologist. You can visit his blog at stewarthase.blogspot.com.


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