Truth. Now more than ever, society is grappling to determine what’s the truth, whether in science, medicine, politics or whatever…even in sports. As uncomfortable as it is to acknowledge, though, the truth is there really is no universal truth.
And…deep down inside…we know that human beings have successfully lived with that seemingly irreconcilable principle for eons, haven’t we?
Think of the parable of the blind men touching different parts of the elephant, each saying it’s a different animal. That parable exists for a reason. Timeless truth.
Recall all of those times when you and your parents or siblings…with whom you share the same genetic material…had very different, very intractable opinions on a topic.
Consider how often you and your significant other…who you have decided is the human being with whom you are most compatible…have disagreements.
Note how renowned experts can taste the same wine and be enthralled or disgusted by it. 98 points from one. 78 points from the other.
Reflect on breathless debates about who is the “GOAT” in basketball…or how Tom Brady can win seven Super Bowls and still have countless detractors…even though, in both cases, there are irrefutable objective measures.
Remember the viral image of a dress whose two colors millions couldn’t agree on.
It should not be surprising, then, that among communities of thousands, states of millions and our nation of 320 million, there are heated debates about competing truths…especially when fundamental aspects of our lives like financial well-being, security, faith, happiness and the future are at stake…ESPECIALLY when nowadays we are each connected not just with a few hundred people with whom we physically interact (as was the case for humanity for millennia) but with millions via the Internet, nearly instantly.
The truth is there is no universal truth…because there are nearly infinite truths.
There are nearly infinite truths because in a world of infinite space and infinite information, each of humanity’s 8 billion members are inarguably the center of the universe. The facts that matter are the ones most pertinent to each of us…the “truth” for each of us.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t hard-and-fast objective facts; but there are plenty less than we think and they aren’t the source of conflict. That doesn’t mean there aren’t core moral principles, but even the rather simple commandment “thou shalt not kill” elicits numerous exceptions. That also doesn’t mean there aren’t key historical events, but we know even those can be colored by bias, twisted by conspiracy or denied by the disillusioned.
Will we shout at every person…rage at every person…who does not share our truth? Will we shame them? Will we ignore them? Will we compel them…coerce them…to accept our truth? Will we punish them? Will we banish them from our lives?..and just congregate with others who share our truth until we find disagreement with them too?
How do we find reconciliation? How do we peacefully coexist when there is so much to disagree on? How can we apply our logic and reason to find definite solutions when the subject matter itself is, ultimately, indefinite?
Our modern world…erected on the pedestal of a binary computer existence whereby things are either “1” or “0” or black or white or right and wrong…coursing with hard-and-fast, allegedly indisputable data to manage increasingly-sprawling human constructs…would seem to demand reconciliation at all costs.
But we are not computers. We are also emotional….wonderfully emotional. We are ILlogical creatures of reason. That illogic — ironically enough — equips us with our salvation…our capacity to process the illogic of those countless truths.
This does not mean we capitulate to an emotional, non-rational urge and savagely impose our truth over others’…to essentially play out “King of the Truth Mountain.”
It means we utilize our unique emotional capacities which are most apt to avoid violent conflict. I contend there are three: Compassion. Respect. Curiosity.
Indeed, they orbit in the same realm as The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Here, it would be: “Give unto others the compassion, respect and curiosity you would have others give to you.”
If someone treats me with compassion, respect and curiosity…regardless of their conflicting truths…I can coexist with them and am more likely to reciprocate. And vice versa. We can perhaps even cooperate. The end result is a flywheel of smoother coexistence.
While truths may all be separate, those three capacities will bring various truths closer together. They are fundamentally consolidators compared to their opposites like animosity, disrespect and indifference. We may never agree on everything but we will be able to agree to coexist (and how to coexist) and will have less to disagree about.
Compassion means you suffer together. You’ll understand firsthand the emotions that compel people to act illogically even if you don’t understand the articulated truth guiding them.
Respect means you have sought in others positive attributes that you admire. You are keeping others in a positive light. With that positive light, you will consider them worth understanding and at least coexisting with.
Curiosity means you are eager to learn about others and their truths. Perhaps you will find compromise. Perhaps you will in fact adopt their truth. If nothing else, perhaps you will understand the wellspring of their truth and then become able to establish a common truth.
Of course, no one can exercise these capacities all of the time. And there will certainly be varying abilities, whether across individuals or groups, because of current circumstances or prior history. But we can all strive to do so more often.
So that’s the answer. Three fundamental human emotional capacities: compassion, respect and curiosity.
But there are three critical corollaries
First, we must exercise these capacities towards EVERYone, EVERYwhere, EVERYtime…not just when it serves our purpose (as if it’s transactional)…not simply when we already agree with someone on other things (making it pointless).
We must exercise them when it’s most difficult. When every fiber of our being says someone is not worth it. Because that’s when the new connections…the new, stronger communities…are created.
Second, despite the preaching of media and tech proselytizers, we most assuredly do not need to know about what every one every where is doing every moment. We don’t even need to know about what those most dear to us are doing at every moment.
Limit those screens and other human-made conveyors of information like they’re poison. All that noise creates artificial triggers, raises anxiety and undermines exercise of these capacities. Absorb what we nevertheless see and read and hear and learn with awareness that it is part of a unique worldview irreconcilably different from ours.
Be in this moment. Be in this space. Be with those in our presence. Be Zen. (Another religious touchstone.)
Third, it goes without saying that merely being compassionate, respectful and curious will not protect from imminent physical danger (although they will reduce such incidences). In those cases we must physically respond as necessary, but with restraint informed by exercising those capacities.
Some might consider this naïve or simplistic. But what’s the alternative? Do we simply let heated argument and confrontations and violence continue and increase to decide on the one truth?
I’ll adhere to this trinity, which allows innumerable truths to coexist.