Friday, August 5, 2011

The Simple Truth

Oscar Wilde
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For the past few weeks, a group of friends and I have carried on a dialogue regarding truth and just exactly what it is.  The Free Dictionary by Farlex gives this definition: 
Truth n. pl. truths (trz, trths)
1. Conformity to fact or actuality.
2. A statement proven to be or accepted as true.
3. Sincerity; integrity.
4. Fidelity to an original or standard.
5. a. Reality; actuality.
b. often Truth That which is considered to be the supreme reality and to have the ultimate meaning and value of existence.

The problem with the truth is that what is truth to you, may not be truth to me.  Truth, to a large degree, is subjective.  Whether it should be this way or not, the fact is, it is so.  My friend tells me that she saw a particular event take place and it happened exactly this way.  Another friend saw the same event and what the first friend saw never happened.  Police officers will tell you that eye witnesses are not the best way to present a case.  Some will say the man who robbed the bank was tall and thin.  Others will say he was on the shorter side and kind of stocky.  Still others say that they're not even certain it was a man.  They all believe themselves to be telling the truth.

So, why is truth so difficult to ascertain?  Because your truth, what you saw and heard, may well be different from my truth.  I have sat through many meetings and at the conclusion of that meeting when addressing some of the issues presented with colleagues we have each come away with an entirely different idea of what was presented.  How can this be?  We sat in the same meeting.  We heard exactly the same words at the same time and yet, we disagree on the message presented.  And what's more, my colleague is telling me that what I heard is wrong.  Am I losing my mind?  I know what I heard.  I even have my notes to verify it.  This is my truth.  Her truth is just wrong.  My truth is right.

The problem is that we don't share the same lens with which we viewed the presentation.  What we heard is truth for each of us, but it may not be the same because her truth is centered in her own, unique filter which comes from her life, her experiences.  My truth is centered in my own, unique filter from my life experiences.  We heard the same words, but the words meant one thing to her and something else entirely to me.  There are two truths here and the reality is, neither truth may be the intended truth of the speaker, with his/her own filter of life experiences.

A perfect example would be my brothers, sister, and myself.  We were raised in the same home by the same parents.  The values we were raised with were the same for all of us.  The rules were similar for each of us.  And yet, even though we lived the same experiences, we each have our own unique recollection of those experiences based on our unique perspectives.  I see things through the filter of being the oldest, a girl, having a young mother, the job my dad was doing when I was born, the family around us at the time, everything that happened to me in my first years before my brothers came along.  Once they were included in the family, my world changed to include them-one at a time, and they began to form their own unique filters based on their world and experiences.  It all changed again when my sister was born and her filter began, unique to her life experiences.  She cannot know what formed my filter, just as I cannot know some of what shaped hers.  They are personal and they are ours alone.

So, how can we find the truth?  I like the third definition: Sincerity; integrity. I think  truth is being sincere, certainly, but integrity is the key.  Integrity is the steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.  Integrity is, what I like to say, where the rubber meets the road.  When I find myself extremely emotionally attached to an issue, I have learned that this is a signal for me to take a step back and examine the reason.  What emotional buttons have been pushed within me?  The problem with being emotionally charged is that then the issue becomes more about me than about the issue itself.  And when it's about me, I have lost the central issue all together.  Once that happens, then truths become skewed.  The truth is lost in my emotions and my own being.

I sat through a meeting recently in which many around the room spoke their truth.  I have no doubt that each one of them were sincere  but I also have no doubt that, for some of those people, their truth was lost in their feelings.  It was no longer truth for the group.  It may have been their own personal truth, but it was not possible for it to be truth for everyone because there was nothing about the group in what they were saying.  Their truth was all about them.  I realized this as I examined it later.  So much of what they said used the words I and me and my.  Others around the table used words like we and us and our, meaning the entire group They were viewing the incident through a more universal lens while the other people at the table were only seeing how it might affect themselves.

Was one of those truths more real than the other?  I can't be the judge of that.  What I can judge is that some of those truths were not based in fact, they were based on untruths.  I know this because the next day I did some research.  Numbers and history were presented that could be checked and I did so.  I wanted to be certain that my truth was not emotional, that my truth was based on facts.  Does finding those facts make that other person's truth less real?   Far greater minds than mine have attempted to determine this and have not been successful.  I am certain that I have no clear answers here.  The reality is, we each have our own truth and somehow we must come together to form a truth that we can all agree on.

This is not something that comes easily to us in today's world.  We have lost the skill of learning to listen to each other, instead of talking at each other.  When we can set aside our emotions and try to really hear what the other person or people are telling us, when we can set aside our filter and try to listen through another's filter, then we can find a common ground on which to build a firm foundation of truth for each other.  This, to me, is truth.

So, while we can use definitions from the dictionary (and these vary based on which dictionary you use) and we can continue to debate what truth is, we must understand that truth is illusive.  When I was a little girl and my mother told me to tell the truth, I believed that I was doing just that.  What I didn't understand then, and I'm not certain that I fully understand it now, is that there are many truths.  What is important is continuing to search for the common truth, the one that most of us can agree on.  Then we can create the new truths together.

There is no truth. There is only perception. 
Gustave Flaubert

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