Tuesday, August 9, 2016

What is True?


Kathy popped up on the radar the other day. We parted ways a decade ago – no hard feelings. But what made us part was a difference in beliefs. I felt some of her notions were pretty “way out there”. Yet, I realized that even though her beliefs didn’t match mine, she believes them thoroughly and lives her life according to those deeply held principles.

I’ve had some important men in my life who have believed deeply in the power of reason or intellect to handle life well. They’ve lived good lives according to those values. At the same time, they saw my belief in the power of prayer as “way out there” too.

A strong difference in beliefs can break apart families and friendships. Getting people to believe the same thing is a recipe for war.

Yet it’s understandable why we would want to swing someone else around to our way of thinking. Consensus builds trust. We can act as a group when we are all operating from the same beliefs – or assumptions. And when we have a conversion to a new set of beliefs, we want others to know just how wonderful this new truth is. It may seem so joyful and promising that it can be hard to grasp that others might not be interested. We build our lives around this new information. And we don’t stop talking about it until it is a belief that is firmly entrenched in our minds.

We perceive this as truth, and not a belief. We don’t look farther ahead and see that this truth, while it could be valid for us for years, may itself change when something new nudges it aside.

Truth isn’t really a be-all and end-all thing. It’s flexible. What we believe now may be worlds apart from what we believed to be true a decade ago – or even last week. Truths that we adopt in life can be fleeting or superficial. We change.

Ultimate truth seems to go much deeper than religious ideas, myths, or scientific principle. Yet in our human way, we have assigned ‘truth’ a meaning of being whatever we believe about reality in any given moment. Since, as human beings, we are incapable of grasping the whole of reality, if truth is about being in accord with reality, we’re really all just making good guesses.

That’s why it’s important to find ways of connecting with those around us. Each of us holds a different set of beliefs about reality. To each of us, ‘truth’ means something different than to anyone else.

In the end, it might not matter what we believe is true, and it might not matter if we share beliefs with the people around us. It matters how we live. Kathy’s deeply held truths are just as important to her – and just as valid as mine are to me. I don’t want to let something as speculative as the truth stand in the way of love.

Revised slightly from story first published November 2011 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.