Multiple Truths–Beyond the Absolutes of Right & Wrong

“You’re going the WRONG way!”

This pops in my head often when I’m a passenger and a friend is driving a different route than I would normally take. Thank goodness I usually (not always) have enough social intelligence to keep that thought to myself, but it’s still often there.

The thing is that it’s natural to think that “our way” is the right way.

We live in a culture that thinks in absolutes.

We learn at a young age that there is a “right” way to do something and a “wrong” way.

Well, I have calculated out that my route is the fastest, most direct route to our destination. Plus I drive that way all the time, so it feels weird to go a different way. So I must be right…right?

Yes, I am right.

My friend might not be interested in the quickest or most direct route. Maybe she prefers to avoid a certain intersection, or a left turn into busy traffic. Perhaps there is a special tree or plant that is in bloom that gives her joy when she drives past it. Who the heck am I to say that she is wrong?

She is right too.

  Obi-Wan : " So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view. "   Luke : " A certain point of view? "   Obi-Wan : " Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. "

Obi-Wan: "So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view."

Luke: "A certain point of view?"

Obi-Wan: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view."

Whoa. In a culture of absolute thinking, how do we make sense of this? The logical response to me being “right” is that you are “wrong.” How can we both be right and have almost opposite thoughts about the same thing?

This might sound a bit silly when we think about it in simple terms like what route to take to get to Starbucks, but this kind of thing happens ALL the time about much bigger things – like politics, religion, parenting, relationships, how we should live. With a big election coming up in both Canada and the US, social media is, and will become even more bombarded with everyone expressing their strong opinions about who we should vote for.

Everyone has an opinion about most things.

 

I have been on a journey of changing my “either/or” thinking to “both/and.” I admit that sometimes it’s really, really hard. Especially when I believe strongly in something…which if I’m being honest—is most things.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about the idea of worldview. A worldview is basically the lens through which we see the world. It is composed of ALL of our life experiences:

  • The city we grew up in. Was it rural or did we grow up in the city?
  • The country we lived in.
  •   Our cultural background.
  •  Our religious background.
  • How our parents raised us.
  • Our birth order in our family. Did we live with both parents?
  • Our family’s socioeconomic position.
  • Our experience of death.
  • Have we experienced abuse or bullying
  •  What access to the media have we had, what books have we read?
  • What kind of education did we have?
  • What's our experience in the workforce?

The list goes on and on.

We all have a reason for believing what we believe based on our worldview.

All of us do.

Often we hold onto absolutes to try to make sense of the world. So we put things into categories—categories created around our particular worldviews.

Our brains naturally make judgments. Simple, yet important ones like how to get to work—if I needed to use my GPS system to get to work every day, that would be a problem. Thankfully I don’t have to read the instruction manuals on how to use my iPhone, computer, TV, stereo or stove every day. Relearning how to use those things every day, would be a real problem. Getting anything done would be nearly impossible, because I would be consumed with figuring out how to live over and over, every single day.

So our brains “just know” some things. Without having to be particularly mindful about them.

Putting things into categories and living on auto-pilot is a big problem when we become mindless about people, relationships, and communication. Have you ever put someone into a category, or have you found yourself labeled a certain way by someone? Once that happens, it’s pretty close to impossible to break away from that label. That label sticks, until we are mindful about honouring multiple truths.

When we label someone as always _________ (you fill in the blank)…That person will  ALWAYS meet those low expectations for you.

We see what we look for.

 

So our negative thinking and gets reinforced over and over again… “See, I knew that person was ________.”

I would have to say that labeling someone as in a good way is much better, as long as we don’t put them on an unrealistic pedestal that could come crashing down…but that’s another blog post.

I’ll explain in a bit more detail what I mean…You see someone’s behaviour, then your perception of the behaviour gets filtered through your worldview. If it doesn’t fit with the what you perceive as being “right”, then you give the person a general label. Usually those labels aren’t good. You know the ones I’m talking about – reckless, manipulative, impulsive, always needing to be right, uptight, dramatic, intense the list goes on and on…

Ellen Langer (Professor of psychology at Harvard) says, “the things that are happening to me are a function of my view on them.”

 

I’ve been labeled before and it doesn’t feel very good. Again those labels are based on the perception of a small amount of data. It’s impossible to know what is going on under the behaviour. Everyone has a story—a lot of which is unspoken. To think that we know what’s happening for someone else is based purely on our assumptions. Unless they have chosen to open up to us, and even that is a just a piece of the whole puzzle.

The truth is that everyone’s behaviour makes sense to them at the time, or they wouldn’t have done it.

So where do we go from here?  

Another thing that Ellen Langer talks about is universal uncertainty—you don’t know, and I don’t know. When we think we know, or someone else knows “the answer”, conflict almost always ensues.

There’s a hilarious scene from Napoleon Dynamite where Napoleon, Kip and Uncle Rico are watching an old home made video of Uncle Rico throwing a football around. To be honest, I watched that movie, but I found most of it kinda annoying…but this is still a good little clip.

Napoleon says, “this is the worst video ever made.” Kip retorts, “Napoleon, as if anyone could ever know that.” That line often comes up in my house , and it always brings a deep laugh to the conversation. The thing is that it’s kinda true. There’s a lot in life that is grey, ambiguous, left up for interpretation…

Have you ever gotten caught up in reading online debates on facebook or other social media pages about silly things that people get so adamant about. The comments people make can be so hurtful and destructive—so absolute.

I believe that this whole idea of worldview, and honouring multiple truths can change the way the world responds to conflict.

After all conflict in and of itself isn’t really the problem that creates disconnect in relationships, it’s how we react to conflict that’s the problem.

 

Embracing this type of thinking is indeed a process. I’ve been on this journey for a while, but I still have much to learn, and I find myself learning more every day.

These are the ideas that are helping me become more mindful and open to holding multiple truths;

  • Realizing that what I know, think and believe is a function of my worldview.

  •  Everyone else has a worldview that they also feel strongly about, for good reason.

  • When I make a judgment I need to realize that I’m filtering it through my worldview. Be mindful of the reasons why I am thinking the way that I am.

  • I need to suspend my judgment and be open to hearing other people’s perspective and why they think they way they do.

  •  Remember that I see what I’m looking for. If I’m looking for someone to screw up, I will see them screw up (and likely miss all the things they do that deserve celebration).

  • Know that there is always more to someone’s story than I will ever know.

  • Let go of the need to be “right.” I don’t have to change my mind on what I think, but I want to be open to the other person’s perspective. I don’t need to feel compelled to make believe what I believe.

  • Be open to expanding my thinking. When I listen with the intent of understanding, not changing the other person, I can expand my thinking.

  • I want to be aware of words that communicate an absolute. Words like “you always”, “you’re right”, “you’re wrong” the list goes on...

  • Celebrate differences! Rename negative behaviours to something more positive. For example, turn “reckless” into “spontaneous.”

  • Be aware of the power of words, labels and categories.

A wise friend of mine once said, “if both of us think the same way about something, one of us is redundant.”


There is immense beauty when we are able to see a situation from a different perspective, and honour multiple truths.