On Truth

When I was 18, I took a sociology course. My teacher was definitely a neo-hippy. Over the semester, she told us story after story about how policy, from our toothpaste to vaccinations, were informed — yes, by science — but also by corporations, lobbyists… basically, an interconnected web of powerful people’s personal interests. Week after week and topic after topic, it was the same play on a different stage. It was the hospitals, cigarette companies, school systems, unions, politicians. You name the group and they were in on it.

Finally, toward the end of the semester, I raised my hand. It’s been over a decade, but I still remember the conversation, her posture at the board — even if I don’t remember a single name of a person from my university (true story). Anyway, I said to her, “So… what you’re saying is: we are all puppets?” (It was an honest question) and she replied, “Well… yes.” I was ready to walk out right there. Not because I was mad, but because it was all so hopeless feeling. After a long pause (maybe she felt bad for me? ha), she said, “Well. It’s not entirely a lost cause. Educate yourself. Question everything. Seek out the truth. Trust yourself as much as the experts.” So why am I mentioning this now?

When we lie to others, we reshape/reconstruct/distort their reality

We tell them: don’t trust your observations, your instincts, your learning. We also tell them: you are not worthy of the truth, nor do I trust your decision making skills with the truth.

And for you liars out there who are trying to feel better about yourselves through rationalization: stop it. Do you just sometimes omit information? It’s lying. Allow someone to believe something that is not true? Lying. Mischaracterizing someone’s statement or taking their words out of context? Yep, lying. Is it just a little white lie? Yeah? Did you notice the noun there? It’s “lie.”

And, yes, I know — we all lie. We also all shit ourselves as babies. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all try to be better.

Again, you’re probably asking: so why is she mentioning this now?

It is an election year

I know. I’m surprised too.

Maybe it’s not new. Maybe it’s me, but I feel I have never seen an election cycle where there have been so many claims of conspiracy theory, so much debate on what reality actually is. It’s not a debate of working through belief systems and what is most important for society to preserve and value. We are actually arguing about what is real. And, truth be told, we aren’t arguing. Arguing has the potential to be productive. We are simply trying to bash each other in the head with the version of the truth that we’ve decided to accept.

I don’t blame one entity in particular. I blame all of them. This includes, your precious Bernie Sanders. I blame all news media. I even blame wikileaks. and you too Putin.

When we are dealing with personal relationships, we can “investigate” the truth through questions, observations, the insight of friends and loved ones…. and even then, we get it wrong sometimes.

But when it comes to complex, layered, and distant decisions — like who should be responsible for the fate of this country — we cannot get close enough to the issue to solely use our senses… and, truth be told, 99% of us don’t really have enough expertise to truly understand these issues even if we were close enough.

So what’s a country-divided to do?

Honestly, I don’t know. Anticlimactic, right?

Maybe we can try asking questions when faced with someone we disagree with. Genuine questions. The kind where you want to understand their thoughts (rather than find a way to demonstrate you think they’re an idiot).

Maybe we can even thank someone for being civil when they disagree with us.

Maybe, we can go on Medium and make a long rambling post :/

But seriously, behavioral psychology has taught us that people (including those that make up news media, presidential campaigns, and facebook arguments) repeat behaviors that are rewarded. Like a permissive parent with a naughty kid, we’ve been rewarding the wrong thing and it’s only hurting everyone in our offspring’s vicinity.

We need to do better. We rewarded lying and now we need to find ways to reward the truth.