We Construct our Reality: Rory O’Carroll at TEDxYouth@TheSpire (Transcript)

Rory O’Carroll

Rory O’Carroll – TRANSCRIPT

I just want to start off and give you a bit of advice. First of all, you need to be intelligent.

Why do you need to be intelligent? Because you need to get a good degree to get a good job to earn good money. That way, you can be successful. Don’t moan about it because that’s the reality, so you have to accept it. That’s the reality we live in today so just accept it and stop moaning about it. I want you to take that advice, and I want you to leave it over here.

Leave it over there for the moment. I’m going to talk about social constructionism. What if I told you that we can create our own reality? We can construct the reality for ourselves. We can construct this ourselves through the concept of social constructionism. So, what is it? Social constructionism is a mental creation; the fact that reality is just in our mind, it’s created.

The only reason we see this as a bottle is because we called it a bottle, and when we called it a bottle, that means it’s subjective. There is no objective truth, there is only subjectivity. Because we’re calling it a bottle, we don’t call it other things. I visit Berlin, I have a great time, I come back. The reality for Berlin is how I see it, what I experience.

Each and every interpretation are experiences of what you experience is true to yourself and unique to yourself. We can’t experience everything because that’s impossible so there are realities created for us. How are these realities created for us? Through conversation. People that haven’t been to Berlin before ask, “Sinéad, what’s Berlin like?” She tells them, they read on the media, they look at films and see books, and the reality is created for them. For example, I looked at the film “The Beach”, I loved Leonardo DiCaprio.

I thought that it was great and I heard that this beach was real, and I was like, “This is great,” I looked through the Internet, it’s Maya bay, it’s in Thailand, so I thought is amazing. Then, I actually spoke with people who are in Thailand to visit it, so the reality that was constructed for me, what I need experiencing was this. This is what it looked like, and this what it was. If I had never been there before, then the reality would still be like that. But unfortunately, I actually visited it and this is what it looked like.

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That rock in the middle was superimposed. My friends never told me that, and the Internet didn’t say it either. When I arrived, the tide was ebb; and it looked absolutely awful. Basically, if I’d never visited there, the reality for me would be completely separate. Moving on, number one on social constructionism.

We take a critical stance for a taken-for-granted knowledge. If you lived all those years ago where the world was flat, you’d have believed you’d fall off the edge of the world because the top scientists then told you that. You’d be walking around, and you wouldn’t question it, the reality was the world was flat. If anyone thought that it wasn’t flat, you’d think they are absolutely crazy, you wouldn’t even mention it. The reality for that is we socially construct categories like that; that we believe.

Say gender, for example. We split humans into two categories: men and women. So why not split into short and tall? We’re doing that based on one sexual organ. The largest organ of the body is actually the skin, and people have different colour skins, so why not separate us between black and white? But I can hear you thinking, “Well, there’s procreation, so ” “It’s the final point, we have to” But why is procreation important? We’re told it is, but why? Because the continuation of the human rac.e That’s really important, you know? Hands up who here has children OK, now hands down.

When you had a child, was your motivation the continuation of the human race? I don’t think it was. I doubt in the history of the world that anyone had a baby, had a baby for the continuation of the human race. But that’s the reason we’re told, that’s why procreation is important. But when you actually look back, is it actually important? I really question whether it is. You can say the same for music.

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Music is music, no matter where you listen to music. But we socially construct these categories to put music into. Who’s to say in the nature of music that we should do that? We do it for a convenience purpose, you go to a store, you want to listen to different types of music, to a different type of radio station, and that’s fine, because no one’s affected. But when you do that with gender, people are affected, because people can be oppressed. As we said, humans constructed humans into two categories: men and women.

That means Anne today, years and years ago, in Ireland you couldn’t vote because you were put into that category of men and women. You can’t be a priest today because you are a woman. You got to quit your job when you get married because you are a woman. Those categories we put ourselves into are all made by ourselves, it’s all constructed through reality. The reality back then is one thing, and now, because we challenged that and because we questioned it, reality’s changed, so it’s just proof that we do change reality, and reality is created by us and the society we live in.

Just like marriage referendum. Marriage is between a man and a woman. Why? It’s been like that for thousands of years OK, but that’s because people were living for years and years, and they decided to put — It’s a socially constructed concept. Back then, nobody ever thought to put a man and a man together.

In a thousand years’ time, we’re going to look back and say, “Well, of course same-sex couples can get married. That’s ridiculous. It’s been like that for thousands of years.” It’s just another socially constructed concept.

The second thing is our understanding is always contextually relative. It all depends on time and where you are. For example, if you were bold in school 50 years ago, you’d get quipped. That was the reality, that’s what to do. When you’re bold it means you’d get beaten, that’s what you’re meant to do as a teacher and what you expect as a child. That was the reality for you.

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But now, because we’ve questioned that, because we’ve moved on in time, we have a completely different reality, completely different look on things on how we should treat children when they do different things. Just like homosexuality is accepted now, it’s just everyday normal thing. But if you live in the Uganda it’s completely outed. Where you live and when you live there is extremely important. A very interesting point is knowledge and social action go together.

When we construct a problem; for example, alcoholism. I believe it’ll always be a problem, but back before the temperance movement and prohibition, we saw alcoholism, “It’s all your fault,” “You’re completely blameworthy,” “It’s your choice”. Therefore, that was the problem constructed. When a problem is constructed, an action follows from that. The action that followed from that was imprisonment, or being arrested, or whatever it was.

Therefore, when you have one construction of a problem, another action follows. These days, the medical/disease model is used for alcoholism a lot. Whether you agree with it, let’s use that as an example. “It’s an addiction,” “It’s not your fault” “Circumstances lead to that”. When we construct a problem one way, it leads to another action.

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