Only One Right Answer

By Quinn McDonald | Posted 7/9/06 | Updated 6/9/23

My friend Anna was sitting in my studio, telling me about her job. She switched topics in mid-sentence to ask, "What are you doing?"

"I'm working on some mirrors," I said. "I'm collaging the frames and adding words to them, something that would encourage a spark when you look in the mirror — maybe get a new perspective, feel gratitude, get more than a reflection of yourself. Maybe reflect on something more than your image." I was in the artistic frame of mind that allows for endless possibilities. Anna looked at the frame I had just finished.

"Is that one done?" she asked.

"Yes, that one is," I said, "but I need to decide what to do with the others."

Anna looked puzzled. "But that one does what you said. So why aren't you going to make the others just like that one?"

Anna can be the essence of practicality. I love her for it. That statement gave me the idea of making more than one mirror with the same look or words. It is a great idea that I hadn't thought of while in the perspective of one-of-a-kind.

"There is more than one answer here," I said.

"But there is only one right answer," Anna said.

I smiled. Anna is younger than I am, and excelled in school because she could learn answers. My school days were occasionally dark because I questioned answers.

"Is the one right answer therefore the truth?" I asked.

"Yes, of course," she said.

The First Right Answer

I grabbed a piece of paper and drew on it: a triangle, a circle, and a half-circle. "Which one doesn't belong?" I asked Anna.

"The triangle, because the other two are round figures."

"You are right," I said, and Anna smiled.

"But how about the circle, as it has no straight lines making it up? Or how about the half-circle, as it is the only one made up of a curved line and a straight line?"

Anna wasn't smiling.

"That's a trick question," she said. "And you said I was right."

"Your answer is right, but there is more than one right answer."

Anna looked thoughtful. "So my right answer was just the first right answer?"

"Exactly. And then you stopped, because you thought it was the only right answer. But most questions have lots of different answers, and many of them can be right, given your perspective," I said.

"Does that happen all the time?"

"Yes. That's what creativity is. More than one right answer."

"So when I said the right answer was always the truth, how about that?"

Anna was on a roll, and without knowing it, she was being very creative, something that would have surprised her.

Perception and Reality

"Remember a few years ago, when everyone was saying, 'perception is reality'?"

"Sure, and it is. Isn't it? I mean, if the sun is shining, I think it's daytime because it IS daytime."

"Anna, supposing I came up to you and said, 'you are a liar.' Does that make you a liar?"

"Why would you call me a liar? I'm not a liar!"

"Last week, when I showed you my latest collage, you said you loved it. But you didn't. That was a lie."

"I was trying to be nice," Anna said uncertainly.

"Exactly. A white lie — something we say to avoid hurting someone's feelings. But if that makes me think you are a liar, that is just my opinion, and not your reality."

Anna looked thoughtful. "So perception isn't really reality. My perception is my reality. But what if I change my mind later?"

"Well, if you change your mind, or your perspective, things look different."

"So the saying might mean, 'My perception is my reality right now,'" Anna said.

"Exactly! And your perspective — and perception — can change. And your reality may not be my reality. So when I talk to you, I'm in the presence of your reality, but that doesn't make it the only one, or the right one."

"And I can disagree with you about art, and we can still be friends."

"Sure," I agreed, "My art is about my perception of my reality, so you may not like it or not agree with it, or simply choose not to deal with it." I said.

Anna smiled. "So it's OK if I didn't like that last piece, but like this one? And if I say I like it because it has a lot of blue in it, you won't laugh?"

"Never," I said, "I put the blue in it, and both our perceptions agree."

"Well, then for once we are in the same reality together, " she said, laughing. And we were.

Copyright ©2006 Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved.