Tag Archives: truth

Uncovering the massive lies

I’ve had it happen twice on the kind of scale that rocked my sense of reality. Finding out you have been lied to in a way that undermines your sense of the other person, how the world works, maybe even your own sense of self is a distressing thing to go through.

Small lies are an everyday thing and no big deal usually. The lies of forgetfulness and omission, the lies that were meant to be a kindness to you, or that protect someone else. Inadvertently misleading each other because we use language differently, or understood something differently… There are also the small lies people tell to protect themselves – of course I remembered. Of course I was going to do that. In the grand scheme of things, they might not be ideal, but they can be lived with.

A big, deliberate lie or series of lies has serious consequences. It can leave you wondering what was real, and second guessing everything. You will likely feel betrayed, and your trust in other people can be compromised. You may feel like you should have seen through the lie, and be beating yourself up for being fooled, naive, optimistic, over-trusting or whatever it was. Worse still, there may be people on the sidelines ready with an ‘I told you so’. There may be humiliation to add to the misery of betrayal.

It’s hard stuff to deal with and will make you feel like shit. It can be more tempting as a consequence to go along with the lie rather than dealing with the truth. Sometimes the truth is bloody painful, and the lies are consoling. But no one feels good about having been misled, and the more you’ve done off the back of that, the worse it feels.

Dealing with this in your personal life is hard. Dealing with it at a political level is brutal. When people have lied to you to get your vote, and you’ve been persuaded to support something that isn’t in your interests, and the people on the other side are just waiting to crow and add insult to injury… it’s not a good place to be.

It’s tempting, when you are proved right, to want to draw attention to that and get back at the people who said you were wrong, or lying. It’s tempting to be angry with the people who were persuaded by lies into doing things that weren’t helpful. If the liar has a lot of power, it can be easier to vent frustration on their victims than go after them.

It’s hard to admit you’ve been duped. We can choose to make that easier for each other, and to handle it kindly. It is better to have people pull away from the lies than give them reason to double down, upholding the lie to protect their own fragile feelings.


The role of a Druid

What should a Druid be doing at the moment? What does Druidry have to bring to these strange and troubled times in which we find ourselves?

I am reminded of Iolo Morganwg’s “The Truth Against The World.” Let’s skip over Morganwg’s messy relationship with truth for now. We’ve seen years of effort internationally to undermine the very concept of truth. We’ve seen people demanding to have unfounded opinions taken as seriously as evidenced theories. We’ve got fake news, and a political culture of lying. We live in an age of bots, where fake people promote fake stories at the expense of reality. Sometimes, I look at what gets spread that way and I find I don’t even know where to start. We live in webs of misinformation, illusion, gaslighting and denial.

It may well be the work of a Druid to speak the truth, but it’s difficult when so many people don’t want to hear it.

Many people seem hungry for simple solutions and are happy to blame someone else rather than deal with complex realities. Reality is complicated. Simple ‘truths’ that divide the world into good/bad, and us/them, do us so much more harm than good, but it’s hard to pitch something nuanced when you’re in a climate of gross generalisations and a disinterest in detail.

Perhaps it will make little or no difference to speak the truth. Perhaps it will change nothing to defend research, evidence, experts and reason. But I think we should do it anyway. Because for me, Druidry is in part about doing what is right and what is honourable even when that might not get you anywhere. It’s the importance of what we do for its own sake, not just the focus on achievement. Perhaps we are all going to hell in a handcart, but in the meantime, it makes sense to point out the nature of the handcart and the hell we trundle towards. And maybe sing as we go, about what might have worked better.


Believe in truth

This is the next instalment in my series of blogs where I pick up ideas about fighting fascism from Molly Scott Cato.

This is a tricky one in the current environment – believe in truth. With so many sources offering opinions as facts, rubbishing experts, buying ‘experts’ to promote their agenda, offering counter facts that aren’t true – it’s not easy to pick out the truth from the lies, or from the confusion.

Believing in truth is a belief position. Previously we looked at asking for evidence – which is about establishing what the truth is most likely to be. This is a different, and more philosophical process. It asks us to get over post-modernism, and step away from the idea that truth is always subjective, partial, contextual. Sometimes these ideas are useful and relevant, but they are also easily manipulated to serve a right wing agenda.

Belief itself is a state that is easily manipulated. We also all know that data can be innocently misunderstood, experts can be wrong because they haven’t seen all the data yet, and so forth. The very best information we can get falls short of the truth.

One of the things that abusers do – it’s called gaslighting – is to provide the victim with conflicting information with the intention of driving them mad. Right now in British politics, Jeremy Corbyn is being presented by the media as weak and ineffectual, but also as a powerful leader with dangerous ideas. Migrants apparently come over here to simultaneously take all our jobs while scrounging off our benefits system – we’ve seen a lot of that one. The EU is simultaneously totally evil, but should kindly find a solution to our brexit problems. Clearly both cannot be true. People with terminal illness are declared fit for work. When you’re thinking about truth, this is an area to pay particular attention to.

A person who is interested in truth will be open to new information. They won’t however, swing back and forth between conflicting ideas and at every turn expect you to believe the idea they’re putting forth. Taking a step back and trying to look at the overall pattern will give you a better sense of what you are dealing with.

In face of constant gaslighting, it may be a better bet to pick a view and stick to it, just so that you can function and keep moving. In face of gaslighting, it’s not enough to believe in your truth – you will need to remind yourself of it and revisit the evidence so that the misinformation does not undermine you. Given the scale of the gaslighting, you will also need to share that evidence with other people who will likely also be struggling to navigate and stay sane.

Even if you’re not sure what the truth is, if you believe in the idea that there is truth, and the evidence (somewhere!) to make it clear, then you have some resilience against the madness people feel when they are given conflicting information and told that it is all true.


Ask for evidence

I’m picking up the themes Molly Scott Cato has suggested on her blog for resisting fascism – this week it’s about evidence.

Asking for evidence is always a good idea, even when we’re not fending off toxic far-right ideas. When we have evidence, we have consensus reality. When we have evidence, we can discuss the evidence and how it might be interpreted, and if you really want to challenge mainstream thinking in some way, this is the far better route to take.

You can have different opinions and interpretations. You can even have different data sets drawn from different studies in different times and places. It is ok to argue over this. It’s good and healthy to ask questions at this point. What you can’t have, are different facts that are really opinions being called facts and offered with the implicit demand that no one asks what’s going on.

The right to ask for and question evidence is key to making free speech work. It’s key to making democracy work. When you are expected to accept whatever you are told, unquestioningly, it’s a pretty good indicator that you are living under a tyrant.

I am suspicious as soon as people start talking about facts without also talking about evidence. Real science doesn’t give us that many facts. It gives us theories, probabilities, best information based on the data to date. If someone is cautious with their facts, or tries to explain where they come from, I am more likely to trust them. The more strongly asserted a ‘fact’ is the more likely I am to think it’s a lie.

Truth is often complicated, nuanced, and conditional on various factors. Often there is no hard and certain truth – as with weather forecasts. There is only likelihood. What is true in one situation won’t always hold up in another – whether we’re talking about human behaviour, or the behaviour of atoms. Change one variable and the whole thing can be radically different.

However, as humans we’ve bought into the idea that truth should be simple. We are more persuaded by clear statements than by caveats and clauses. It may be to do with how we’ve evolved, or a few thousand years of monotheism having given us ‘one true way’ thinking, but that’s what most of us default to. We want our truth plain and simple, and so too often we will take a plain and simple lie in preference to a complicated truth.

In the short term, the simple lie may be comforting, but it takes us further from any kind of truth, further from what helps us.

If you mistrust experts – as seems common in the current environment – don’t ignore them. Ask for their evidence. See if they offer evidence. Trust your own ability to look at evidence and think about it. The person who will show you their evidence and share the process of their thinking is far more likely to have your interests at heart than the person who expects you to take everything on trust.


Let me tell you what you’re really like

If we seek out a professional person, the probability is that we want them to tell us how they think things really are. That will include measurements of ourselves. We may also turn to friends, family and colleagues for feedback on how we’re doing. We might invite criticism. We’re allowed to do that. We’re also allowed to speak plainly if someone asks us to.

Misjudge, and an unsolicited compliment can be creepy, patronising, or even a put down. I’ve blogged about that here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/swimming-metaphorically-with-the-social-jellyfish/

However, what’s interesting to me at the moment is what happens when people feel the need to give unsolicited criticism. ‘Let me tell you what you’re really like’ is seldom the prelude to a compliment.

Shit happens. People make mistakes. Things go wrong. Most of us are dealing with this kind of thing in small ways on a daily basis. It’s important to identify what went wrong, it may be relevant to identify who was responsible or what could be changed to improve things.  When we’re focused on action, choices, behaviour even, we’re talking about things that can change. It’s not terrible to be told that something needs to be better or could be worked on. We’re all flawed and human and we all need to be able to talk to each other about these things.

However, it’s a very different business when we want to tell the other person who they are. You are this, you are that… It’s not a big problem with compliments – you are lovely, you are kind, you are considerate, you are generous, you are brilliant – most people don’t object to hearing things like this. You are useless, you are horrible, you are stupid, you are creepy – no one wants to hear this.  I’m not convinced it’s a helpful thing to do, either.

Firstly it makes the problem intrinsic, it doesn’t invite change or tell the person much about how they could change. ‘When you do this I find it difficult’ is more useful. ‘When you say X I feel Y’ can be a place to start a process. But when we say ‘you are’ in critical ways, it comes across as judgement and rejection. If you are terrible, how can there be scope for change?

If we talk about how we experience each other, there’s room to talk about why. Projection and historical baggage can so easily be part of the mix. We may use words in different ways, or have triggers or anxieties. If we can share what we experience, we can negotiate with each other, and learn to co-operate more effectively.

‘You are’ statements can be a form of power over. The person speaking has given themselves a status, an entitlement to label and categories the other person, to judge them, and to say what is going on. It puts all the responsibility for the situation onto the other person. It denies even the possibility of a problem being collective, not individual.

It’s not something I often do, but it is something I’ve done in states of rage on a few occasions. For me, it marks the end of a dialogue. It’s something that doesn’t come up often in my life, but that I’d like to handle more effectively. On the whole I think the only ‘you are’ statement I want to use henceforth in a critical way should go ‘you are not someone I can continue interacting with’ – give or take.

The desire to make someone understand an uncomfortable truth can, at the time, come from a place of wanting justice, recognition, or fair treatment. But in practice, when I’ve got to this point with someone, it’s because those things were entirely absent. There’s nothing I can say that will change anything. There’s a certain amount of satisfaction in dropping a truth-bomb like this before walking away, but how much good that really does anyone – myself included – I am uncertain.


Kindness and honesty

This week I read an excellent article by Meg-John Barker, about kindness and honesty – it’s over here https://www.rewriting-the-rules.com/conflict-break-up/kindness-and-honesty-can-we-have-one-without-the-other/ and it has got me thinking about how we frame honesty in the normal scheme of things.

Often honesty is presented as a hard thing – to be brutally honest. Telling it like it is, adds a slapdown into a conversation that implies that how the other person thinks it is, is wrong, rubbish, useless. Hard truth is something we have to take. There’s often something macho and combative about it. I’ve seen the notion that what is being said is the truth used to justify a great deal of innate unkindness. Truth and honesty can be a way of excusing, or justifying verbal aggression, putdowns and meanness.

We also tend to encounter truth in a singular form. I think this has a lot to do with the dominance of monotheistic religions. One God. One truth. One true way. In practice, truth can depend a lot on perspective. People don’t tend to come to conclusions about things for no reason at all, and if you aren’t willing or able to square up to why they hold something as truth, challenging it will only entrench them. We may want plain and simple truth, but often truth turns out to be a messy, multifaceted thing, full of history and perception, and belief even when there seem to be a lot of ‘hard facts’ involved.

Keats took us round the notion that beauty is truth, truth beauty. Beauty is a very subjective idea, more in the eye of the beholder than truth is normally held to be. In terms of applying ideas to life, I’ve found this notion reliably useless. It doesn’t help me do anything, it doesn’t tell me anything. It just sounds good. But what if truth is kindness? Certainly the reversal isn’t true, apparent kindness cannot be counted on to be truth. As the blog I linked to points out, kindness that isn’t true is just setting up some serious unkindness for later on.

I think there’s a huge problem in how we all talk to each other – especially around politics – that truth justifies unkindness. That to have your honesty taken seriously, you must be brutal and pull no punches. That kindness is inherently a bit suspect, and is probably softening or fudging something rather than dealing with how it really is. The idea of brutal truth supports toxic behaviour. It justifies being abusive to people we think know less than us and have poor reasoning skills rather than feeling obliged to try and help them. Brutal honesty also enables people who want to have their conversations by hurling insults and criticism – and if you challenge it, well, that’s because you’re a snowflake and can’t hear how things really are.

I’m going to look harder for kindness in truth, and be less willing to accept that truth itself is a reason to accept unkindness from those dishing out their certainties.


Experts in a Post-Truth era

I hate the very notion of post-truth, but as we live in times when politicians, journalists and big business feel no qualms about lying to us, and paying for apparent experts to support their twisted views, it isn’t easy to know who to trust. When you come to a subject for the first time (any subject, Druidry included) it’s hard to figure out if the person you’re dealing with is an expert or a charlatan.

Here are some pointers for deciding whether an expert is worth your time.

The most useful experts out there want to help people understand. They’ll use accessible language, explain the evidence and point to the sources so the non-expert has a fighting chance of keeping up. The good expert will let you form your own opinion as much as they can, and may present the case rather than presenting the conclusion.

The other sort of expert may be more interested in dazzling you with how brilliant they are. They will use jargon, allude to things they don’t explain, or explain things by reference to their own status as professional and expert. In some situations this can be quite bullying. The more arrogant expert will tell you to trust them and that they know best – they might indeed be an expert, but they aren’t the ideal human to work with so it’s best to move on if you can.

Untrustworthy experts will take great leaps of logic and won’t explain them. Migrants come here, we’re short of beds in our hospitals therefore there must be health tourism = is an example of such leaps. Correlations do not prove causalities, and this can be used to hide actual underlying causes – financial cuts being the culprit in this case. Challenge the leap, and you’ll hear that they are the expert and you don’t know what you’re talking about. The person who refuses to give you enough information to make an informed contribution is not on your side.

The untrustworthy expert will use emotive language to back up their case – anyone who doesn’t agree with me is an idiot. Only a total moron would think this… And so forth. That’s neither argument nor evidence, but it does make it tough arguing with them.

The expert who is worthy your time will likely talk about the arguments that challenge their theory. They won’t pretend there’s no other interpretation available. They can recognise the limits of their theory and the limits of their own knowledge. Most of the time, hard, definite facts are rare, and we deal with probability and statistics. A good expert will use that kind of term, rather than talking about simple, uncomplicated truth. This is often why we don’t collectively like real experts – they don’t have any easy answers for us, while the other sort do.


Speaking your truth

We have a duty to speak our truth. It’s a thought I’ve run into from a number of sources – fabulous Kris Hughes has been talking about it, and it’s a key part of Cat Treadwell’s work.  Throw into the mix the Quaker virtue of speaking truth to power, and good old Iolo Morganwg with The Truth Against the World and it’s clear that truth, personal truth, has to matter to a Druid.

One of the things about personal truth is the implication that other people’s personal truths will be different, and just as valid. If our truth suddenly looks bigger and more important than other personal truths, we’re on the road to dogma, one true way and generally feeling a lot more important than is good for a person!

But what is personal truth? It might be a number of things – it could be the truth we experience in the moment, or the product of long hours of deep contemplation. It might be the code we live by, the way we make sense of things, our beliefs about the sacred, the divine, or what it means to be human. Our truth could be political, anarchic, all about activism. It could be driven by a sense of duty or a longing for freedom. It may come to us in a flash of inspiration, and our truth may be all about awen.

We have to do more than speak our truth in the sense of making big statements about it. We have to speak it every time we speak, and act with it every time we act. Or at least, try to. We’re all flawed and fallible, and capable of not fully manifesting the things we think matter most.

And when someone else’s truth seems to grate against our own, or threaten it, or compete or conflict or any of those other things we might feel unsettled by, that’s ok, and we need to be ok with it. Their truth is not our truth. Their path is not our path. Their difference is not a criticism of our truth, nor is it a threat to it.

What is my truth? It’s a question to ask, and ask again because the answer is bound to change. What is it in this moment, this day, this year? What have I learned that has changed my truth? Who am I becoming? Who do I want to become and what do I want my truth to be? Described like this it may sound a bit vague and woolly, but the answers are always going to be substantial and informative.

I write this at a time of both deliberate, and of unsought change. Change is thus part of my truth right now, and the scope for change and the need for it. I question my sense of self, and wonder how to know what the truth of me is. Is my truth what I think? Can I discover it in the words of the people who value me most, or the words of the people who like me least, or somewhere in between?

My truth is the joy I take pouring time and energy into good projects, supporting awesome people, seeing great things happen. My truth may be that writing non-fiction books doesn’t suit me very well. My truth is whatever’s inspiring me right now, it’s how I’m interacting with the people I love, and it is the deliberate choice to walk away from the people who bring me down and who don’t like what I do. My truth is that I need to be in spaces where I am valued, and where the work I am drawn to do has a place and is valued. My truth is that I’m more tired than is good for a person, and I need that to change. Many stories, pulled from the air today. Tomorrow, I would say something different.

What’s your truth, and what do you need to do to speak it into everything you say, and carry it into everything you do, and what happens if we do that?


More than two sides to every story

‘There are two sides to every story’ is one of those statements which, at first glance looks like wisdom, but in practice causes all kinds of problems. Here’s why…

It assumes both sides are equally true. This is the case sometimes, but it’s not always the case. If someone is lying, ignoring the differences between stories in this way allows the liar to get away with whatever they’ve done and leaves the honest person exposed and unsupported.

There are often, perhaps usually more than two sides to any given situation. Often it’s only when we start looking at the other facets of a story that the whole becomes more apparent. The trunk and the tail are both part of the truth that is an elephant, but without seeing the big grey bit in the middle, you aren’t going to understand what you’ve got in the room.

Reducing a story to two sides can be used to give a false sense of validation to one version of truth. This is especially popular in politics where the two options are ‘my way or certain doom’ and too often we don’t even consider that alternatives might exist.

Some things are facts. Climate change is a reality, and the vast majority of scientists confirm that it’s happening and an issue. Allowing unfounded opinions to hold the same weight as facts distorts debates and makes credible that which isn’t. We sometimes make it look like there’s two sides, when really there’s nothing to discuss.

Balance is not always about finding opposites. This is often a media issue where a subject is discussed by finding people who disagree, to argue it out. Our law systems are equally confrontational. Pitting two sides of the story against each other is not a sure fire way of finding the truth. The ability of the journalist, lawyer or commentator to make their side of the story look plausible may have more to do with storytelling skills. That something can be condensed into a simple and plausible narrative does not make it true.

The idea of two sides can be used as an excuse. Somebody acts in a way that looks terrible from the outside, but points out there are two sides to every story and you should hear their version. How far does claiming failed good intention excuse poor action? It’s certainly not a tidy situation.

We’re all cobbling together our own subjective understandings of what’s going on, what it means and what to do about it. We’re all limited by our own perspectives, experiences, capacity for empathy, and ability to understand. None of us will ever see the whole of anything (don’t believe everything The Waterboys tell you!). If anyone tells me there are two sides to a story, my first response is to wonder what it is about the other sides, beyond those two, that they would prefer I did not notice.


Encountering truth

Truth can seem like a very abstract subject – the kind of thing you can only explore with language and thinking. Take away language, and what you have is experience, and what you learn from the experience. Whether that’s right or not can be tested by whether you survive future experiences.

We go all too easily from the idea of truth, to the idea of some sort of fixed and ultimate truth. Then we argue with each other about what this might be, and it all gets messy. How we make sense of things depends on who we are and where we were standing when it all happened. The truth for a fox is very different from the rabbit’s truth when they find themselves in the same situation. My truth is not your truth.

Of course if truth is in the moment, in the perspective and the individual, then we aren’t going to be able to agree on it. If there is such a thing as ultimate truth, then persuading people of it becomes a thing. Ultimate truth has implications of power and control. The person who has the ultimate truth has the right to dictate and control, and so there’s a lot of people out there claiming that they have the one true way, the only truth, the rightyist bit of rightness.

The idea of ultimate truth – be that philosophical, spiritual, lifestyle, political, economic – offers the tantalising possibility of right answers. The scope to take the one true way and apply it – maybe only once – and then have everything be absolutely excellent and reliable and all the things.

What if the truth is that life does not work this way? What if everything is specific, and what works this week may not work the same way next week? What if most of existence cannot be tidied into predictable numbers in the style of the sort of physics they teach you in your teens? What if there is no magic solution to tell us exactly how to get everything right?

What if the people peddling ultimate truths, definite salvation and foolproof solutions are, for the greater part, wrong? What if the truth is that we have to make it up as we go along, based on the best information we’ve got right now? What if the truth is that there are no ultimate answers whatsoever?