Tag Archives: paradigm

Working with Truth

Any sane person, when faced with information that doesn’t fit their world view, or their understanding of something more specific, has to consider the idea that they’ve maybe got it wrong. The problem with this – and I speak from considerable personal experience here – is that if you are being persistently lied to, it’s not easy to work out where the balance of truth is. Truth is, to me, both very important and terribly elusive. It’s so often subjective, we see the bit of it in front of us and not the wider picture, we see it through the bias of our own experiences, and through the filters of our own needs and assumptions. What is true in one place and time may not hold up in another. I’ve recently read Graeme K Talboys’ The Druid Way – which discusses the importance of Truth in a Celtic worldview. Truth, in this sense is about inherent rightness which exists in relationship, less about the subjectivity inherent in surfaces, more about looking for deeper themes and currents. I care, passionately, about being honest and living honourably. Truth, in all its complexity has to be a part of that. Having a workable world view is necessary. Having a world view that fits with the available information is vital if you want to do anything at all. You can’t act honourably when you are standing on a pile of lies. Even if the lies aren’t yours. Good choices depend on good information – on truth. Being able to trust your own judgement is essential also, because without that it’s very difficult to navigate anything. Again I speak from experience here. Judgement is based on the quality of our own perceptions, our ability to asses those perceptions and deduct information from them in relevant ways, and our ability to predict based on those deductions. Most of us do this, most of the time in a fairly unconscious way. At any point, mistakes lead to confusion. The more precise our perceptions are, the closer we come to truth and the more scope there is for honour. The more aware we are of our own failings and biases, the better we handle the deduction stage, and the more experience we have, the more scope we have to predict outcomes based on what we think we know. There are so many places this can go wrong. Insert one false piece of information into the process, and it’s doomed from the outset. It’s a precarious sort of balancing act, comparing what I think I know with anything I now learn. Is the old information right? Have I misjudged? Am I being misled? Without the confidence that we can trust external sources as being truthful, truth itself becomes ever more elusive. It is necessary both to be able to learn and embrace new perspectives, and also to know when to hold firm. How? I can suggest reasoned arguments based on assessing available information, going beyond it to look for supporting evidence from less contentious sources, getting a second opinion and so forth. There isn’t always time. How do I tell between the truth I want to hear and the one that really exists? How do I tell between the truth that is mine, and the lie someone else wants me to swallow? How do any of us? Our entire legal system depends on these questions, and so many of our day to day interactions as well. Are there inherent qualities in truth that help announce its presence? I’ve mulled that old idea that truth is beauty (Keats?) and I’m still mulling. I want truth to be beauty. I want it to have grace and elegance. Perhaps the best measure of ‘truth’ and its value, is the direction it takes us in. A truth that challenges is different from a claimed truth that mostly just destroys something. A truth that explains is different from one that justifies. The devil is in the detail, as always. I’m looking forward to hearing what everyone else thinks on this one.

When Worlds Collide

What happens when we run into something – be it an individual, or an organisation with such radically different beliefs to our own, that there is no scope for finding common ground or areas of overlap? For pagans, encountering people for whom your world view simply does not exist, is not an unusual experience. It’s not a problem exclusive to us – every field of study and human endeavour has scope for paradigm clashes. I know many pagan folk who have found themselves at odds with their families, because of irreconcilable beliefs. Such situations can be painful indeed.

I was exposed to post modernism at college. I learned that there is seldom any such thing as objective truth, there is only the perspective you are looking at things from, the beliefs influencing your perceptions, your own capacity to understand, and so forth. Two people can understand the same experience in totally different ways – with all due reference to the story about the blind men and the elephant. However, in that story, we can see that the blind men are each experiencing an aspect of elephant, their impressions are not irreconcilable with elephant, even if they cannot be reconciled to each other. Given a bit of time and encouragement, I have no doubt that these chaps could have figured things out.

We talk about the elephant in the room. I assume that’s generally taken to be a different metaphorical elephant, but maybe it isn’t. Maybe when things are hard, difficult to talk about, when we can’t reconcile our take with someone else’s we do need to recognise there is potentially an elephant in the room, and that we are only experiencing a part of it. Until we know what the other person perceives, we can’t get a grasp of the whole shape.

So at what point is it that we should refuse to accept another person’s conflicting take on things? When do we say “yes, there is an elephant in the room but you haven’t got to it yet.” When do we write someone else’s perspective off as insane? No doubt we all have at some point – religious fanatics of one brand or another being obvious candidates. We all have people we deem ‘nutters’ and whose opinions we ascribe to paranoia, or a flawed relationship with reality. It’s very easy to do that and avoid considering that another take holds merit when it is wildly at odds with how we understand things to be. And equally, there are folk out there whose opinions we have to deem hopelessly wrong.

There’s a mental dance here that calls for both flexibility, and the knowledge of when to stand firm. When to listen, consider and accept the difference, when to learn, when to reject a lesson. After all, we can all get things wrong, especially when we only have a partial understanding.

I think all that we can rely on when it comes to these clashes of ideology, is honour. If a position is honourable, but flawed, or misguided, or partial, that’s very different from a position that is inherently dishonourable, or that facilitates dishonourable behaviour. When you meet a belief that challenges you, ask what purpose it serves. If it functions to oppress, bully, restrict or undermine, reject it. If the effects are neutral, you can disregard it, or learn from it as you prefer. If you encounter a belief or idea that enables someone to do their work in the world, to stand up with courage, to maintain their integrity, then even if you don’t agree with it, that has to be worthy of respect.