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Truth is a many splintered thing---the Hump Day Hmm for April 23, 2008

The first thing I knew about truth was that it had many faces, was not exclusive of embellishment, and was invariably subjective and typically relative.

It was also cause for more battles as religion and politics. That's because, I think, the real battle---even when it comes to religion and politics---is over what is true.

For some, truth is solid, as hard as a diamond. To these people, truth is incontrovertible. It is a known thing, obvious. That four-legged, solid surface object in the kitchen is a table. This thing is true.

For others, truth is slightly more malleable, self-evident, soft. That stuffed object you sit on is maybe a sofa, maybe a couch, perhaps a love seat, or a depends upon what you know, what you think, how you experience it.

The first group is deeply offended by embellishment, unnecessary add-ons. They find this to be misleading, which is their softening how they feel, which is that you are lying. These people, whether they know it or not, subscribe to the correspondence theory. At least to a degree. ;)

The second group understands that embellishment is not simply reporting, but is also relating: here is what I believe to be true and here is my personal experience of that truth. In this, subjectivity is assumed on both sides. These people are more constructivist, in theory.

I think we all know which group I fall into.

The intriguing thing is that when someone is sharing a story---a personal story---to people who were not there, the listeners often prefer a story that relates personal experience. This usually means a more poetic and less prosaic retelling of events.

The other intriguing thing is how different the expectation is when one or more listener participated in the event. No two people saw or experienced the same thing, even if they reacted similarly or came away with similar conclusions---and yet, each individual is usually convinced that his or her version is the actual one. Thus, too much personalization or embellishment...well, it can prompt a negative reaction.

Why do some have such an attachment to their perceived "just the facts, ma'am" version of events and experience?

I don't know.

The bigger question is: why are we so convinced that our version is the truth?

My own personal truth(s) change with time, age, and place in life. I find myself now letting go of many things I have always believed to be true. I made decisions and acted based on these beliefs. I can't say I necessarily regret the choices, but I do regret the ideas behind them, in some cases.

Once upon a time I decided not to go to law school. I thought I wasn't good enough, couldn't get in, would not do well, and would compare unfavorably to my peers. I might have overcome that, except someone whose opinion really mattered to me told me, "Julie, you are way too idealistic for law, too philosophical. You'd never do." So I believed my insecurities to be true, and I let it go and moved on.

The truth---the truth?---is that law school at that time in life probably would have been a bad idea, but not because of ability or lack thereof, but for a variety of much less objective reasons: financing, burn out, other interests to wade through, etc.

However, in some ways, I wish I hadn't excluded it forever, cut it from my life plan. If I had considered that the timing was bad rather than me, I might have left room for it in my life, and might have, at the right time, given it a shot.

I have always carried a lodestone about how I view and feel about the truth. I find it complicated. Some others often find it simple; at times, they can be exclusive to their own point of view, their own truth. The person who told me that I was not meant for law was so certain: to him, it was simple, incontrovertible.

Thinking back, in his shoes, I would not have been so....point blank. I would have considered many angles, "You've got a keen interest in law and justice. You're bright. You could do it. it the right time? Is this the right application of your passion and interest? Only you can know. Why don't you keep it in mind, but take some time to consider what it is about law careers that appeals to you, and see if you can figure out if law school is the best pursuit of that interest."

When people are involved in an interaction, I find that it's good to establish up front what concept of truth each is operating from. And keep in mind limitations and biases.

That is so much easier to know now, at this age and stage, than at 21, for example, when it seems everyone else is so much more grown up and so much wiser.

I keep falling back on Richard Russo and his thoughts about looking backward as we age, and seeing things through a different lens. It's so true. I have become extremely contemplative at this age and stage. Previously, I have always looked forward, but lately I've begun spending more time in the here and now, and reaching back into the past. In fact, I'm spending a lot of time reaching back into the past, taking out important moments and events, re-examining them, diamonds under a scope. I'm re-evaluating what was true then, and it affects what I find true, now.

I used to worry about a mid-life crisis. I hoped I never lost my mind and made radical changes to my life or went crazy and bought a sports car, or some other myth associate with this time. I am grateful for mid-life and crises affiliated with it, and I hope everyone has one.

That is true.

What is your version of the truth?

Note: Today's post in honor of Kyla, who has insisted for an entire week that the table simply is, and is simply a table. To show my reverence for our friendship, I have not once asserted that we have simply decided to agree that the table is and is a table.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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Robert said…
I think some of what you refer to in your post has more to do with subjectivity than truth, per se. There are absolute truths in the world. There are things that are a matter of opinion that have very little to do with "true" or "false" but more to do with how someone views it. It was not, for instance, a truth that you were wrong for the long. It was the opinion of that person shared by you at the time. You might make a great public defender or prosecutor with your sense of justice. When I try to help young people decide what major to choose in college, I try to help them zero in on what they want to do with their lives. From there, they can choose a proper degree program to get them there. If they realize the program of study is something they're not interested in or unwilling to commit to, then their "desire" is more dream than reality. So often, young people want life to be simple and straightforward, but it's simply not that way for most people. I think you've inspired me to write a post on the subject of giving youth advice, and maybe I'll do that today. In the end, though, I enjoyed your post. I just don't know that I agree with where you draw the lines for what truth entails. There certainly are people who think in such rigid ways about subjective things, but I tend to ignore those sorts of people. Truth is absolute, but that does not mean there aren't gray areas in life.
Kyla said…
It SO is a table. LOL. But I love embellishment, too. Just don't tell me the table doesn't exist at all. ;) The truth can be fluid, but not that fluid.
Julie Pippert said… totally got my point! Thank you! Yes, what most of us believe to be truth is more to do with subjectivity than absolutes. And, as a constructivist, I am wary of absolutes. In general, I believe what we think of as true is simply mass agreement. At any moment a switch might be flipped and turn truth on its ear. It sounds like an unsettling way to live, but I'm comfortable in it. :)

And thank you for brining up the shades of gray concept.

Yes, blog about advising youth, Excellent idea.


Kyla, the table is so because of you. In fact, I am editing this post to dedicate to you. And I'm going to start calling you Simone. For de Beauvoir. (And for more deep thinking...translate her name and ponder that next to her philosophy. I know, my brain just melted out my ear too. LOL)
Robert said…
I'm nearly done with the post for youth (to go up tomorrow).

As for fluidity of truth, the danger of thinking of too existentially is that one can easily get lost. I remember one of my fellow nerds in school telling me "You don't exist. You are an electrical stimuli, and I am simply a brain in a vat receiving the stimuli that makes me think you exist." So I tend to stand more with the objective truth crowd. The table is really a table. I don't care if you have to call it a coffee table or some other adjective, but don't try to convince me it's not there or I may have to use it to convince you otherwise. ;)

I'm glad I "got it" but I still think there ARE some absolute truths, whether or not the masses agree. Science fits more what you're talking about, but there are deeper truths than science can completely grasp yet. That's where I'm coming from.
Melissa said…
Y'all are deeper than I am today. Sorry. Was going to try to say something relevant to Julie's post and then, well...
Anonymous said…
I tend to think there is a core of absolute truth ("the universe is very big") surrounded by a haze of interpretation ("this is exactly how big it is") that is much larger than the absolute core.

There are a few things I'm willing to argue are Absolutely True. The earth is round. The moon is x miles away.

There is a lot more I'm willing to believe might have an Absolute Truth that is just too big for me to grasp. The Meaning of Life, the Nature of Beauty, and so on. On these we are mostly stuck with human interpretation because it's the best we can do. That doesn't mean that the Truth, capital-T, isn't out there; it just means we are only capable of approximating it in small pieces. Kind of like asking a dog whether or not hte earth is round.

So for me, acknowledging subjectivity has more to do with acknowledging human limitations and failures than truly believing that the Truth doesn't exist. It does. I just can't claim to know it, or get it.
Julie Pippert said…
Andrea, yes, thank you for articulating *so very well* the point that has tickled the edge of my brain all day wrt this topic.
Unknown said…
love this: I keep falling back on Richard Russo and his thoughts about looking backward as we age, and seeing things through a different lens. It's so true.

Robert said…
I really like Andrea's thoughts on here. She's in tune with where I'm coming from. There definitely is truth, and it sometimes can be known. Sometimes it is something to reach for. But still, it exists.
Robert said…
You seem to have lost Mr. Linky...
Gwen said…
What Andrea said.

And two links from me today, Julie, because that's the kind of true friend I am.

And no, I'm not truly that prolific, except with the copy and paste functions. I'm very good with those today.
Wow, I sure feel dumb when I come here. Not that you speak down, no, you speak up, you articulate so well. I think the most important thing we all recognize in truth is that it is subjective. I see so many people who believe, really believe they have the final word, but in the end, there are so many voices, aren't there?
In my entire life as a student, I have never done well on True/False tests because I always read too deep into the question and cast doubt onto my answer. In other words, I always felt there were no "absolutes" in any situation, so how could a question simply be "true" or "false?"

I approach life's questions the same way, and am often skeptical of what other people deem as "fact." It has been both a curse - in that I'm not easily convinced of things - and a blessing - in that I leave my mind open to all possibilities.

Great post Julie... and that's the truth!
Anonymous said…
Look at that, I'm smart today! That's gratifying.
Liv said…
oh, truth. she can be so liberating, and yet, such a bitch. i heart you. and when i live near you, we're totally going to party like it's 1999.
Jennifer S said…
I can't do any better than (or even so well as)Robert or Andrea on this topic.

I fall into the constructivist group, most definitely.

You know that the Richard Russo passage resonates with me, also.
jeanie said…
I would love to say how a table is a construct, but may make next week's post about yellow to illuminate it!

LOL - okay, mine is up - as usual nowhere near as profound as some of the more philosophical but again, thanks for making me think!
Unknown said…
I think I maybe agree that we agree that it is a table, the truest part of that is that we know what it is for, right? It's purpose, its essence.
flutter said…
in shrinklandia (aka therapy) truth is labeled "accuracy" So instead of being truthful, the aim is to be accurate. You'd be amazed at the difference in the two
Anonymous said…
The subjectivity of truth has always fascinated me. It is why I think religion is so interesting. SOmething that to me seems so utterly false is the ultimate truth to someone else.
Florinda said…
I like participating in these, but I hope it's OK that I'm always late. Between needing more lead time to think about the topics and the publishing routine/schedule I'm trying to keep on my blog, I usually can't get the post up on the assigned week. I do make sure to post on Wednesday, though. :-)

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