The fact that a great many people believe something is no guarantee of its truth – W Somerset Maugham
I overheard someone saying recently, ‘well, she needs to hear a few home truths’ and, even though I’ve heard the term ‘home truths’ many times, it made me smile.
I’m sure I’ve thought it necessary to tell someone a home truth or two over the years. Of course, it would have been for their own good.
I would have been trying to help, wouldn’t I?
But the very nature of a home truth must be personal to the person I’m talking to, which implies judgment. My judgement. That I know more about how they should live than they do?
And is my truth true?
Well, it’s just the truth, you might say.
You know what’s true, don’t you? If you know what is true, you must know what isn’t true. But is that true?
But what is truth?
What is the truth?
You think something is true when it lines up with your reality, but the part that most people miss is that everyone’s reality is different, so something that you believe is true might not be for the other person.
You experience your reality as truth, and it looks absolutely real to you. But is it?
Is what looked true to you when you were ten years old true for you now? At 15 years old? So if what you thought was true then but isn’t true now, was it ever true?
What do you know is true?
It’s true that the sun comes up every day.
No, it’s not. We travel around the sun, so it doesn’t come up or go down.
It’s true that you love your partner. Is it?
You know that you love someone, but is it true that you always feel love? How about when you’re really caught up in upset or angry thoughts about the person you love? Do you love them in that moment?
Yes, of course, I do, you might think. But when you’re upset or angry, you’re feeling upset or angry rather than feeling love. I’m not suggesting that you don’t love this person but that you’re not feeling love in the middle of feeling angry. So is it true that you always feel love?
And have you ever felt romantic love for someone in the past? And that was true then.
But is it true now?
Or how about an argument you had with someone ten years ago, and the person you argued with brings the argument up in conversation one day. They tell you what happened but, to your surprise, that’s not what you remember.
‘That’s not true’, you say, and before you realise it, you’re both in a different argument about the old argument.
So who’s version of the truth is true? Both versions.
Think about your last Christmas Day. Who was with you on Christmas Day? I’m guessing that there was food? Maybe a tree? Presents? So far, so true. But did everyone feel the same about the food, the tree or the gifts?
And if I asked every one of the people that were with you on Christmas day for their recollection of the day, I’ll bet every version would be different. So who is telling the truth?
Same as before. Every one.
You believe what you think is true for you but whatever someone else believes at this moment is true for them.
You can upset people if you tell them, ‘that isn’t true’ or, ‘I can see that’s true for you’ whenever they tell you something, it’s probably the quickest way to lose friends and convince those around you that you’ve lost your mind or been brainwashed by a cult.
What makes what you’re saying true?
Don’t get too carried away by the notion of what’s true and what isn’t. It is true that I can see the sea from my office window today and it’s also true that my partner can see the sea. So there is an experience of the sea.
But my thoughts about the sea are that it looks cold and grey today, but my partner’s thoughts about the sea (I know because I asked him) are that it seems like a great day for kite surfing: same sea but different thoughts about it.
Our different perspectives don’t mean that the sea doesn’t exist because, as far as I can tell, it does, but what looks true to me isn’t true for everyone.
Understanding that your truth isn’t necessarily someone else’s truth can save many arguments. When you argue with someone, you want them to see your point of view, your version of what is true, but, at the same time, that’s what they’re trying to do too.
There isn’t any point in trying to ram your truth down someone else’s neck when they’re also wedded to their version of the truth. And, have you ever found that, later, you see some validity in their argument?
Does that make your point less true?
Think about some of the ideas you have about people. Have you ever met someone at a social occasion or work and formed an opinion of them that has changed over time? When you formed your opinion, I’m sure that looked like truth to you, so how did that truth change?
What looks true to you one day can look very different on a different day, and that is not because truth changes but because you change. You have a new thought about something, and your version of the person, the argument or whatever else looked true to you changes.
So if someone you know is wedded to their truth and believes wholeheartedly that their version of events is true, you can see that there is no point in trying to change their mind.
You don’t need to argue with this person but, instead, remember that what is true for you and what is true for the other person are both true.
In the 1977 Woody Allen film, Annie Hall, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton’s characters are both seeing therapists:
Alvy Singer’s Therapist : How often do you sleep together?
Annie Hall’s Therapist : Do you have sex often?
Alvy Singer : [lamenting] Hardly ever. Maybe three times a week.
Annie Hall : [annoyed] Constantly. I’d say three times a week.
As I asked earlier, who’s version of the truth is true? Both versions. Because the truth is subjective.
And ain’t that the truth.