Tag Archives: world view

Changing your mind

It is incredibly disorientating when something happens to make you realise that your understanding of the world may be desperately wrong. This is often an issue for trauma survivors. People who have faced a traumatic experience may need support in rebooting their reality and going back to feeling safe. It’s also an issue when you’re emerging from abuse – especially gaslighting – and realise that you’ve had your reality damaged. When you’ve been lied to a lot, finding out about it can leave you unsure of what can now be trusted.

Then there are the people emerging from belief systems – that might mean cults, or family stories, religious belief, political affiliations or anything else that dominates a person’s world view. If something happens to make us doubt our world view, that can be a real blow. At the same time, if we’ve been persuaded by something inaccurate, toxic or controlling, then recovering from that is in our best interests.

When the reality you encounter doesn’t fit with the reality you think you know, what do you do? Who can you safely talk to? How do you ascertain which version is real? How do you decide what to trust?

I’ve been here a couple of times, and I can’t say it gets easier with practice. As a very young adult I was drawn into a web of lies, which enabled someone else to commit fraud, and sexually abuse others. I was used as a decoy duck to make the situation look valid, which was a tough thing to have to square up to. Once I started unpicking what was going on, there was a long period where I felt totally lost and bewildered. All I could do was look for the solid, objective evidence. When it’s personal, this is a lot more feasible than when you’ve had your reality broken by something that has more power over you. If your entire culture has told you that you’re evil because of who you are attracted to, finding a space where you can challenge that idea is much harder.

Trust makes us vulnerable. Trust the wrong person, or the wrong news outlet, or the wrong politician and you can leave yourself open to considerable harm. But without trust, we have no points of reference to build our sense of reality on. Deciding who and what to trust is such a huge issue, and yet most of us make the choice unconsciously, assuming that whatever we grow up with is normal. If we find that we’ve misplaced our trust, especially if that’s around things we’ve trusted since childhood, then rebuilding is really hard.

It is possible, though. I’ve done it twice now in a substantial way. If you are short of useful points of reference, focus on whatever is least subjective. A few pieces of evidence about what’s real and what isn’t can help you unpick the rest. (Choose your sources carefully and consider the qualifications of any expert you turn to. Youtube conspiracy theorists will not help you.) 

If you’re obliged to question your reality, or re-build it, one of the most useful questions to ask is what it’s going to allow you to do. There is no single objective truth about existence, or how to live, or what to feel. When you’re building your reality from scratch, you actually get to pick how you want to think about life, the world, people, yourself. You can do that in a deliberate way and it is entirely reasonable to pick based on what you think would most help you. Start by considering how you might be kind to yourself. If you pick kindness, things tend to go better than not from there. It’s a better basis for making mistakes. Better to be too kind, too patient, too good, than to choose a path of anger and wounding.

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.