Updated: Aug 4, 2020
What is the truth and what is false? Isn't that what we all want know?
For those of us who are raised within a structure of close-knit culture or organized religion, we are told what the Truth is from a very early age. And indeed, even in secular society, certain ideas, traditions and beliefs are generally agreed to be true. These are inherited beliefs that are packaged up and presented to us as children and for the most part, we agree to them and embrace them as our own.
The tricky part is that as soon as we venture more than a step outside of our familiar world, we collide with others whose "truth" does not agree with ours. A five year old who is raised at home to believe she is intelligent, worthy and beautiful can have that belief challenged by her poorly-parented classmates on the first day of kindergarten. A college freshman raised in a politically conservative-leaning home will undoubtedly have his beliefs questioned, if not altogether transformed as a result of his college experience. And there are few experiences as effective as world travel and cross-cultural immersion to ignite a potentially troubling crisis of belief for even the most self-assured among us.
As if this weren't enough, we are bombarded on every side by the opinions of those who are certain that their point of view is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Two Christian churches on the same block in the same city can often disagree to the point of accusing each other of spreading "dangerous false doctrines", while in parts of the middle east, the Sunni and Shia Muslims each claim they are the only holders of the truth, sometimes to the point of killing each other. Currently, in the US, there is an ugly battle being fought between those who believe police forces to be abusive, racist institutions and those that believe them to be community helpers who are essential to keeping the peace. And who hasn't been tempted to close all of their social media accounts, in an attempt to find respite from the constant political bickering that seems to dominate there? I've taken a break from Facebook and returned, only to wonder if it's time to exit for good. I'm still wondering...
I saw a program a few weeks ago that I enjoyed to the end, but the part of the episode that most stood out to me and has been fluttering through my mind ever since is this:
The truth is a sphere. Come again? Yes. You read that correctly. The truth is a sphere.
Think of it like this. Visualize a sphere. Let's say it's a planet. And to keep it simple, let's make it an unusual planet, in that it does not orbit its sun or rotate on its axis, but instead is in a fixed position opposite the sun. Viewed from one side, the planet is blindingly hot, bright and mostly void of life. Viewed from the other side, it is cold, dark, and also void of life. Viewed from halfway between, the temperature is mild, life abounds and it is neither completely bright or completely dark. As you can imagine, for every step the observer takes in any direction, his or her perception of the truth about this planet changes in small increments. And how about the different perspectives to be had from above and below it?
This is the nature of Truth. An observer who is determined not to move from their fixed position in front of (behind, above or below) the sphere will never know the whole truth. They will see only their own limited view. Sadly, so many of us get stuck in our fixed-position. We rant, condemn, label and harm each other every day in the name of THE Truth. Some fight to the death defending their tiny sliver of perspective as the entirety of the Truth.
A friend of mine used to have a bumper sticker that said, "Don't believe everything you think". When I first saw it, I was in my 20's. As can be common at that age, I was certain I had things pretty well figured out. I loved the sticker and what it stood for, and I was sure that there were many ignorant people who needed to see its message. Not me, of course, but other people. Well, fast forward twenty-some years and I now know the joke was on me. My self-righteous feeling of knowing it all has been repeatedly clobbered by life experience, so that now when I think of that phrase, I insert my own name at the beginning (inwardly rolling my eyes, of course).
Sometimes life will throw a curveball that flat out knocks us out of our perspective, forcing a crisis of belief, while other times it may be a gentle nudge. I've decided I don't like being shoved, especially when the shove has to come forcefully enough to knock me down and bruise my pride. I can be a slow learner, and I know this is a process that never ends. However, I've developed a couple of my own strategies in hopes of avoiding future injury.
First, I'm learning not to glue my feet to their spot so firmly these days. If I need divine intervention to see more clearly; more comprehensively, I want to make sure the gentlest of nudges will do the trick. I don't like the gut-punches so well. Secondly, I realize that even in a place of confidence in my beliefs, I can safely venture around the curve of the sphere of my own accord, in an exploratory way. Sure, I will be introduced to parts of it I'd rather not live on, but in the process, I will gain understanding. I can freely choose to embrace or not embrace anything I find and also be in a position to more intelligently and indeed more compassionately relate to those whose beliefs differ from mine. Know what else? I've had to learn the hard way not to be too preachy when I disagree with someone. That, too, has come back to bite me. Ouch!
Here's to open hearts, open minds and continuous growth. We never truly arrive and if we did, why bother living? If you ever see that bumper sticker, feel free to insert my name at the beginning, because I promise you, my truth and I are still evolving. It beats the alternative.