Social Contract

My Truth and The Truth

We are currently attending a training through work that discusses multiple aspects of communication. One of the concepts that arose during the training is the need for people to speak their truth and to acknowledge that one’s truth is not necessarily the truth. It’s a perspective and truth in the sense that it reflects one’s true perspective of the subject.

What, I wondered aside to some colleagues, if my truth is absolute garbage? I have come to appreciate an uncommon wisdom about myself. It’s not intellect in the standard IQ test/I won on Jeopardy sense, but it’s wisdom in the awareness of my intellect. It’s Dunning-Kruger. It’s the acute awareness of both what I know and, perhaps more importantly, what I do not know.

So I often find myself in situations and think, “I mean, I have an opinion about this based on what I know, but what I know is so comparatively insignificant that, well, who cares about my opinion? Ask someone who knows something.”

Contrariwise, sometimes I hear someone else’s “truth” and cannot help but think, “This is a ‘truth’ that should not be allowed to stand. It’s patently wrong.”

An example that I have used is the metaphor of the traveller on the train. Objectively, an object cannot be both still and moving at the same time. However, measurement requires a comparison of values and this relative nature does allow room for antithetical ideas to coexist.

The traveller might be moving at great speed according to one observer, who considers the traveller’s movement relative to the ground. The train is propelling the traveller at high speed.

At the same time, another observer might regard the traveller as stationary. The second observer considers movement relative to the train.

Thus, two diametrically opposed views are possible at the same instant – if one omits the context of the views and focuses only on the content: is the traveller moving?

Either answer, relative to this question, would be acceptable as a person’s truth. If, however, we contextualise the question further, “Is the traveller moving relative to the ground?” then the answer must be yes.

I bring up the metaphor in conversations about truth to highlight that we do have circumstances where people can have diametrically opposed views without being diametrically opposed. Even at the furthest reaches we can find agreement, and much of that comes from sharing the context of our perspectives.

This is why empathy serves such an important role in society. I may not agree with one’s perspective, but once I understand the subject from that perspective I might appreciate that we agree in essence about the subject albeit from different angles. Without empathy, I might fly into a vitriolic fit at the person suggesting that the traveller on the high-speed train is not moving.

However. This would not be much of a piece without however.

Perhaps we simultaneously lack empathy and allow too much freedom for personal truth? It does seem that while people do lack the necessary empathy we also have many who seized on that and taken refuge behind, “This is my truth.”

I do not doubt that the person sincerely holds said truth. My concern is that their perspective contains a flaw. It involves an illusion, an obstruction, a misunderstanding, a misrepresentation – something that makes the resulting truth objectively wrong.

If I hold up three fingers, one might see only two from their perspective (and therefore “two” is “their truth”), but the truth is still three. We cannot function as a society in a world where everyone must entertain the personal truths of those who refuse to accept that three is the objective answer because it’s not what their fickle mind perceived.

And I do not mean fickle as a slight to those people. All minds are fickle. As Ebenezer Scrooge once said, the slightest thing affects it. Our minds play tricks on us all the time. Some (most?) of it is functional necessity, like blocking out the fact that your own nose is visible 100% of the time. Other times it’s so elegant that things fall through the cracks. Our minds fail us all the time.

That is the beauty of science. Science is a process, not a result. One does not say, “I want to do this,” and then science a way towards it. One examines the science to determine how to go about doing the thing, or if the thing is even possible.

In other words, science is about observation in a controlled situation. We do not dictate what will happen, but instead watch when it does happen. We conduct these observations in situations where we control all but a single variable so that whatever change occurs, we know that one variable is the thing responsible. Then we check it again. We ask other people to see if they can reproduce the results. We beat the variable into the ground until our understanding of our observation is the only objective explanation.

Science is not some elitist thing. Anyone performing this process is participating in science, and science, like computers, is incapable of failure. People are capable of failure. When people fail to control the variables, rush for results, let personal or political agendas influence the process – those are human failings. The scientific process is resolute and unyielding though.

Balking at the idea that the science behind some phenomenon disagrees with one’s worldview is strange to me. Again, I do not doubt the sincerity of “one’s truth,” but when someone else offers to broaden the perspective, to lend additional context to it, how can anyone disregard it?

The truth of a thing exists whether we accept it into our truth or not. To proceed with an incorrect understanding of something is to court chaos.

We should speak our truths, but with patience, empathy, and open-mindedness so that others might improve our truths.

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