I woke up this morning with the title of this blog post pounding a drumbeat in my head and had to write it down immediately. It was born out of a need to focus on this elusive thing we call ‘truth’. In light of recent events in the United States, and closer to home personally, I felt it was time to embrace the conversation that starts something along the lines of ‘there is no such thing as truth’.
Then I read Claire Montanaro’s blog post, Freedom of Expression, and she said much of what’s been roiling around in my head over the last few days. I almost decided at that point not to write this, but then realised I had a more to add what Claire was talking about.
I also listened to a video on a course I’m taking at the moment and one phrase stood out for me as being true and not true at the same time. ‘The truth shall set you free’. It seems to state that knowing something to be true is freedom. What I realised in the moment I heard it for what must be the thousandth time is that it’s overused and misunderstood.
‘Truth’ demands that there is an actual perspective that is the only perspective we should all approve and support. And therein lies the problem. If you were to ask 1,000 people who support Trump what their ‘truth’ about the events of last week is, it will differ significantly from 1,000 democratic voters idea of the same events. On one hand you will have the overturning injustice and on the other you will be told that it was injustice in action.
Both perspective cannot be ‘right’, yet both insist they are.
It turns out that ‘truth’ is endlessly flexible and always dependent on your personal perspective. Even within that framework, our perspectives change on a minute by minute basis; and there are numerous studies and experiments that demonstrate our understanding of events and circumstances are in constant motion, changing as more information is added to what we know.
It’s a bit like looking at mirror from the front – what you see is your reflection. When you turn the mirror around you see the back and no reflection at all. It’s the same mirror, but we’re just seeing it differently. Nothing has changed about the mirror except the position from which we are looking at it. And that position is our perspective!
Too often people cite ‘truth’ as the reason for their attitude or action. And I often wonder if they do this in the full knowledge that there is always another ‘truth’ or persepctive to pay attention to. Note, I’m not suggesting you have to agree with it, it’s OK to have an opinion that differs from others, rather I’m hoping that people simply recognise that theirs/ours isn’t the only way, that other people have an opinion, truth or perspective, and that it’s as equally valid to them as ours is to us.
Perhaps now is the time to recognise that this difference of belief in truth is what creates that strange dichotomy we live in, that life unfolds in ways we might not want; whilst also driving immense creativity and joy.
When we allow others to dictate what our truth is or should be, we lose an important part of our essential humanity, that which allows us to take responsibility for, and accept the consequences of our actions and our selves. The more we disempower others because we believe our truth is the only right one, the more we disempower ourselves because we forget that in the dichotomy is the power to drive huge, beneficial changes for all society. If Ghandi or King had accepted the truth of their established societies, their countries would be very different than they are now. If women and minority groups had simply continued to accept the status they were granted we wouldn’t have the diverse and vibrant society we have now in the West. There are many more challenges I could point to that have driven positive change that benefit everyone, even if it’s not directly apparent. In these circumstances, it is right that ‘truth’ is challenged, but we must do it with a care and regard for others. It does not give us the right to harm others in pursuit of our agenda, nor does it give us the right to ride roughshod over the beliefs and perspectives of others.
Perhaps it’s even starker when we return to the phrase ‘the truth will set you free’. A freedom based on ‘truth’ is not really freedom. True freedom comes from being able to hold all perspectives as possible, whilst recognising that our values simply give us a preference for one way of looking at events and circumstances than another. Freedom from truth means we can begin a process of understanding why people hold different values without needing to force them to change. In that understanding lies an opportunity for dialogue, and perhaps even reconciliation as we recognise the only thing that divides us is whether we’re looking at the front of the mirror or the back!