I’ve always been a fan of reality. It’s probably why Eckhart Tolle’s teaching of accepting the present moment and accepting it as if you chose it resonates so deeply with me.
I’m also a truth seeker. I’m a question asker, and an answerer. For me, the truth is like the pearl inside the oyster, the vein of gold within the rock. If I can just get to the truth of the matter, everything will make sense…or will it? Or, is truth a bit more like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – a figment of myth and story tales?
It’s getting harder and harder to be a reality and truth seeker in this world of fake news and the sheer loudness of everyone’s opinions. Opinions are worth about the same as ever ie. not much except to the person who holds them, but they seem to be taking up more bandwidth than they ever have.
As an observer in the room, in a quiet corner sipping my chai, I’m starting to wonder if the objective, actual truth is a bit like the holy grail – something eagerly pursued but never found.
I started the newest version of this train of thought when I was watching the US flay itself on a global stage with the Brett Kavanaugh nomination and Senate trial. While Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford battled it out, I wondered what the truth of the matter was, and was it possible to ever get to it. As it was, his version won out over hers – but what’s that go to do with truth? That’s just narrative and power.
I wondered about how people can see the same arguments and the same evidence, and come up with a completely different view. One person can see Kavanaugh as a drunken rapist, and someone else, in the same room, can see him as an upstanding citizen who is being character assassinated for political reasons. How is this possible?
Let’s look at another example: climate change. How did something so widely accepted in the scientific community become hijacked by something opinion? Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report was released. Three years in the making, and conducted by global experts, this report detailed the effect on our Earth from projected climate change, and what we need to do to avoid the catastrophic effects on our planet and ourselves.
The Australian government and the Australian mining industry rejected the findings, especially the recommendation that fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil) be left in the ground, and that burning coal for electricity be completely phased out by 2050. Indeed, spokespeople for state mineral and resources councils felt that coal had a good future, and the Prime Minister stated that the priority for the government was cheap electricity for all.
This is in a country with abundant reserves of sunlight, wind, waves, money and land with which to grow a strong, renewable power industry. What can possibly explain such a response to what is increasingly becoming a worldwide emergency? Is it a refusal to face reality, to accept the truth in front of their eyeballs?
I’m not an expert, but I think people who refuse to accept the reality of what they’re seeing fall into four camps:
- The first group actually do accept the reality of the situation, but say they don’t. Politicians, the elite, and people who are profiting from the status quo fall into this category. They understand the situation, are aware of the risks, but feel as if their position or wealth protects them from the fall out. These are the people that know Kavanaugh is guilty as charged, but don’t see it as a problem. These are the people who know that climate change is real, but don’t feel that they personally have anything to worry about.
- This second group are suffering from cognitive dissonance, which according to wikipedia, is mental discomfort experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. This discomfort is triggered by a situation in which a belief of a person clashes with new evidence perceived by that person. There are only two ways to ease the mental discomfort caused by cognitive dissonance, and that’s to either incorporate the new evidence into your thinking, or to avoid situations where you’re reminded of the new information.
- The third group don’t know what to believe. On the one hand, they are being told convincingly by people they trust that claims of climate change are exaggerated, and on the other hand, they are being told by another group of people they trust that it is real, and it’s happening right now, all around them. Understandably, this group is confused.
- The fourth group genuinely don’t believe what they’re being told. They think it’s a left wing conspiracy, or a misinterpretation of research data and lack of understanding of long term climate cycles, or they do believe in climate change, but don’t believe it’s our fault, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.
So, what is the truth? I think that often we just don’t know, and may never know the actual truth of anything. This may be unsettling, but hear me out: if we can never know the truth of a matter (is man-made climate change real, is Brett Kavanaugh a suitable person to be on supreme court), then we need to embrace that reality.
The reality of not-knowing is unstable and unnerving. It is also light and open and free. You may decide as I have, that we may not know for sure if climate change is real or not, or its causes or eventual outcomes, but the benefits of switching to a renewable energy system seems smart on many different levels.
We might not know what kind of a man Brett Kavanaugh is, but if he has inspired four women to come forward with sexual abuse allegations, one of whom stood up and allowed herself to be publicly eviscerated on an international stage, perhaps we can draw some conclusions. It’s not a question of belief, but going with the more likely outcome.
We can certainly decide what seems the most likely, and make decisions from that space, but to turn that uncertainty into an article of faith, which is then used to bludgeon people over the head who haven’t come to the same conclusions seems, well, crazy.
Over the years, my quest for truth and a dogged appreciation of my own reality has morphed into a quest to understand. I love sociology and history and psychology and science and spirituality because they all explain something of the world and its humans.
I find that when my aim is understanding rather than uncovering the truth (whatever that is), I feel less judgmental and more connected to my fellow humans. I’ve also found that opinions, both my own and others, have less and less interest and impact on me.
Opinions do and should change all the time, because we are always finding out new information. An opinion should never be set in stone, and is corrupted entirely by being transformed into a belief.
The truth is, we don’t know, and we may never know.
My daughter, aged 10, said to me yesterday that while she’s not exactly looking forward to dying, she’s looking forward to finding out some of the answers to some perplexing mysteries, like:
Where do we go to after we die, is there really a God, and do we get born again into another body?
Bless the little children, they know how to get comfortable with mystery ❤
This is a very complex issue that you have tackled very well. We were actually in the USA during the Kavanaugh/Ford testimonies. We watched but were none the wiser, for reasons you have just described. I remember well some serious errors of judgement I made as a young woman and know that is not who I am now. Which is the truth? Both, probably. Humans make mistakes. We learn. We do better, or not. When power comes into the equation, however, things become very corrupted and corruptible. I’m becoming more like you, however, trying to understand but realising the truth will continue to be elusive. And opinions are worth exactly what we pay for them. xx
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Thank you Ardys – I really didn’t want to add my opinion to all the other shouting opinions, all bludgeoning each other with their assumptions and accusations. It’s so uncivilised and destructive. There is a complete lack of any kind of thoughtful take on these issues – it’s all just I’m right, so you must be wrong/stupid/evil. It’s not helpful, when what we really need to do is understand the other better. That being said, I thought Kavanaugh was a disgrace (but seriously, who cares what I think?).
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I really enjoyed your dissection of the camps. We are ever shifting, assimilating information, understanding… a natural process. It takes effort -ad some skill- where there is so much from so many different sources. Who to trust? Ourselves. I recently revised my ‘intolerant of interance’ stance after listening to an interview on ABC radio which persuaded-reeducated me for the need of tolerance fullstop. Reminding me that communities once were peopled by people who had different faiths, beliefs, opinions but who for the most -wabi sabi- lived, worked and played side by side. It reminds me of people who say “I’m not racist, I like my Chinese-Italian-Greek neighbours”. At least it’s tolerance on a basic level. A starting point to work with. So many of those peoples’ children married the neighbours’. Climate change is reminiscent of the world is flat vs round argument, people want to think something, it makes them feel more secure, and there are always vested interests in anything. Where some might be looking for absolutes, there are none. Thank the Universe. But let’s just keep on creating that better world doing what we can with the life we have, voicing our opinions, living our truth, listening, learning, making choices and changes, evolving.
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Who to trust? Ourselves.
People are looking for absolutes, and there are none.
Trusting ourselves, avoiding dogma and black and white thinking, and keeping our minds open at all times…it’s a practice, but what else is there to do?