September 17, 2015
Chasing Shadows: Searching For ‘The Truth’
I’ve recently been re-reading the seminal book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, and enjoying the reminder of how it’s often futile to try and drill down to “the truth” of a matter. Our general social paradigm tells us that our lives are quite scientific and linear and hence there is an objective truth about events which can be recapitulated later for veracity and examination. We typically talk about “what happened” from a place that there is one truth which can be irrefutably revealed and it will give us the way to answer complex questions such as: Was there a betrayal? Did someone do something wrong? Who is to blame for what’s happened?
The view I offer my clients pondering these types of questions, a view which is beautifully explicated in Difficult Conversations, is that the truth of what happened may be difficult to divine, and the conversation risks being unhelpful if not approached with a contribution mindset. Making this examination through our general social paradigm, trying to figure out “what happened” might end up being counterproductive by throwing someone down an existential rabbit hole in coming to grips with our interdependence and the subjectivity of reality or sending us shooting in the other direction to concretizing a partial truth in our scramble for the mental safety of an objective truth—both of which can impede understanding rather than promote it.
To use an example from my own life about how difficult it can be to figure out why something happened, or what “the truth” is, I recently had my home refurbished from head to toe. And how awesome the projects all turned out led me to do the following over a period of two days:
- I posted pictures of my home on Instragram in a state of chaos from remodeling contrasted with pictures of order restored. In the post I called out gratitude to a friend who asked to come stay with me for a while, attributing him with the inspiration to have my home completely made anew
- I ran into my next door neighbor and said to her, “Thank you so much for having your home worked on because you completely inspired me to have my home worked on too after I saw how wonderful yours looked. You were the reason I got that work done and thank you so much!” And,
- I sat down with my landlords and thanked them profusely for their hard work and kindness in giving my home a facelift telling them, “I never would’ve agreed to do it if you hadn’t offered to have the work done so many times over the past years.”
Now wait, what actually happened? Or, more to our point here, what if someone asked me in ten years what happened? Why did I get my home remodeled in 2015? I did write on Instagram that my friend Jake was the one to thank, so that evidence might survive over time, making it pretty likely my sincere verbal thanks to my neighbor and my landlords for being the ones to thank would get lost over time. In ten years would I remember, “Well, I actually experienced three vital co-factors within a short timespan which all equally contributed to me deciding to have my home worked on”? Probably not. And even if we considered, today, the question of “what happened” many of us might posit that I had to be lying somewhere in there with all those attributes and thanks to various people.
So if you find yourself searching the past for blame for where you sit today, or what you’ve experienced, I invite you to consider the notions examined in Difficult Conversations which highlight that a more fertile path to developing compromise, agreement, and peace may be to consider the complexity of forces at play and the multitude of contributions that drive events as they unfold.