We all love the concept of truth. Nobody likes being deceived or lied to. We don’t want to be foolish and we certainly don’t want to be bamboozled. We like the idea of naming things as they are.
Except when we don’t. And when we don’t is when the truth hurts, when it is something we don’t like or don’t want to hear. So, let’s be honest: no one is better at lying to me than myself. Said another way: self-deception is the most destructive form of un-truth. It is destructive because there is some part of me that is fighting to reinforce it – some false data, bias/predisposition, or incomplete perspective. Navigating all of this and dealing with the truth is more than difficult. It is nearly impossible. It is much easier to assume you are right and to move on to other things.
For this reason, the phrase “my truth” is one of modernity’s most dangerous phrases. It expresses a helpful idea – that each of us has a certain perspective of the truth. But we’ve turned it into an excuse to tune out other perspectives that might be just as valuable.
So, how do you know when you are lying to yourself? How do you know you are being truthful? The very concept of a blindspot, or self-deception, is that you don’t really know when you are doing it. Here are a few keys to slowing down and giving yourself the best chance to discover truth within yourself.
Facts and Stories
The key to discovering truth within yourself is to be very clear about the difference between facts and story. We live in a world of alternate facts, political “spin”, fake news, and a hundred other ways of doing the same thing – confusing fact with story.
A fact is something that can be proven (or disproven). Opinions are not facts. Perspective about facts are not facts. What we think facts mean are not facts.
A fact is a discernible truth, such as the number of crimes committed in a year or the amount of taxes a billionaire pays. Truth begins with acknowledgement of these facts. And not a half-hearted, sweeping generalization, story-centered acknowledgement. A true admission of what is real.
We use facts to explain our stories. Truth is the other way around. Your bias is a story. And if you search news or Scripture or social media with that story as your unalterable foundation, you are only going to find facts you can utilize to support that story.
If you really want to check yourself and discover truth, it all begins with facts. Don’t try to explain them. Avoid the temptation to start to manipulate what you discover into the story you’ve already crafted. Start with bare facts, as they are. Seek them with honest humility.
Stories are not unimportant. They are extremely important. They are just as true as facts, in their own way. The key is to build a story around the facts. To let the evidence be your guide. Without that, your own story becomes an echo chamber and it will be difficult to get out of. Most adults, maybe all of us, are doomed to this elemental idea of truth: an echo chamber of our own story.
Story matters. How we feel matters. What we’ve experienced and how it has shaped us matters. We just need facts to help ground us so that our story does not matter so much to us that we allow it to blind us of other possibilities.
Paradoxically, the key to discovering truth in yourself is humility. You will never have it all figured out. There will always be something you are not seeing, acknowledging, or valuing. There will always be a perspective you are overlooking.
This is why community is so valuable to human beings. Diverse perspective is an invitation for all of us to discover the rich complexity of truth in our lives. Sometimes others are wrong. Sometimes you are wrong. But the ultimate truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I am not talking about specific issues or data points as much as I am talking about postures and perspectives. Your experience weighs on you in such a way that you will see and focus on that which reinforces your current perspective. Well, the same is true for everyone else. And that is not always a good thing for you and a bad thing for others. It is often more complicated than that. Like you, others are on to some element of the truth but wildly off in other ways.
Humility is about discerning the value others bring to the table. When are others bringing a perspective, story, fact, or idea that I don’t like or don’t understand and when are they bringing something that is patently untrue? We need to build up the skill of discernment to see this, not only in others but in ourselves as well.