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T is for Truth

What is truth?

From a very young age we are taught, in black-and-white terms that there’s a difference between a lie and the truth. Those who tell lies are ‘bad’ and those who tell the ‘truth’ are good, but what is the truth and what is a lie?

Absolute truth -one that’s irrefutable and correct - is a rarity, if it exists at all and in order to simplify our lives, we have learnt not to question everything but to accept certain things as true so we can quickly process the world around us and respond.

As we grow up our truth is based on the values of our parents and influenced by our friends, schools, church and the environment around us and what we see reported on the news or in the newspapers (which of course will be influenced by the choices of your parents, friends etc and what they watch/buy). As we grow older we start to ask questions and then either accept or dismiss the views we were brought up with. Once our ‘baseline truths’ are established then we use them to form our own set of values, perceptions (and assumptions) about the world in which we live.

What affects (our perception of) the truth?

Coming to conclusions about our own version of truth isn’t easy in today’s world. There is no longer a single interpretation of events that we can use as a reference point. In the past, with its limited access to different views; there were just a handful of e.g. news channels etc but today with advances in technology and ease of access, we have multiple TV channels from all over the world, offering their own interpretations of current events from their own perspective. Some of which are tightly controlled by certain governments who wish to paint a picture different to reality for their own purposes, others have financial backers of a certain political persuasion whose financial contributions mean that often the truth is obscured under a heavy bias. It is hard to find a station or news report that is truly independent, without an underlying motive or that doesn’t contain some form of bias.

But it doesn’t stop there, there are also millions of internet web sites offering their own interpretations of current events and their own divergent versions of reality too. ‘Stars’ from TV, sports, film etc have also entered the arena and offer their two-penny worth, deliberately using their position to try to effect change asking us to ‘trust them’ because they are famous (as if that gives them some sort of magic moral and ethical compass for everyone else). Don’t get me wrong there are some who use their position for good; using their personal earnings philanthropically or putting their weight behind causes that are dear to their heart, but just because someone is famous, it doesn’t mean that they should have carte blanche to influence your own personal thoughts and choices without a degree of questioning of their motives etc There are also more established figures like church leaders, world leaders etc who use their position to influence and control various groups of the population or the inhabitants of countries.

Rather than make our lives easier, this ease of access to information and to so many divergent views has made uncovering ‘the truth’ about anything harder not easier as we have to wade through pages of different perspectives and propaganda from all directions.

We are all unique because no two people have had the same background, experiences or influences in their lives so we all have different, subjective, views of the truth.

If we are not to be simply swayed by general public opinion or drawn along currents of populous trends we need to take responsibility for determining facts and establishing ‘the truth’ so we can then make a response based on our own thought out values. When we listen to others, whether in person, or via the news etc it is very difficult to ascertain what are the actual facts of a scenario because often we are dealing with interpretations of the facts rather than first hand experience and the facts themselves. Not only that but often when confronted with things we don’t know the full background to a scenario and lack the specialised knowledge and understanding to accurately interpret what we are seeing/hearing or the motive behind what we are being presented with

How can we come towards a closer understanding of ‘the truth’ in any situation?

Assumptions - Be aware of your assumptions

Be open to different perspectives – look for similarities not just differences

Correlation and cause/effect – Check to see whether statistics are being used to make it appear that there is a cause/effect relationship between two things when in fact there is only a correlation. (Just because some factor is correlated with another factor it doesn’t mean that the first factor causes the second factor, or vice versa; either factor may have been caused by something else. )

Dialectical thinking – develop the ability to look at things from both sides

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

Exaggerations and emphasis – look for strange emphasis that seeks to distort the importance of something normal

Find out the facts to the best of your ability, don’t just rely on second hand information, word of mouth etc -Trace the facts back to their origin to confirm their validity.

Growth mindset – keep an open mind and be open to different possibilities

Headlines – Practise skepticism. Ask yourself whether things make sense or are likely, particularly when it comes to dramatic statements and headlines. This technique is often used in newspapers etc to grab attention as people will often remember a headline and not even read the associated content

Impeccability – Before repeating anything ensure that you check whether what is being said is true or just being spread to obfuscate the facts

Jealousy, anger and fear can blind us to the truth. Be aware of how your emotions influence your judgements

Kindness - "Truth is a deep kindness that teaches us to be content in our everyday life and share with the people the same happiness." Khalil Gibran

Listen intently to the intentions behind words

Make a list of trusted sources – but regularly evaluate their content and who else trusts them and uses them to validate their opinions

Perspectives - "Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth" Marcus Aurelius

Question, question, question and let your responses be incremental as you get more information to verify information. Don’t overreact.

Role models and responsibility – role models not not absolve you of your own personal responsibility

Statistics - Always verify the source of statistics quoted to support an argument and if the statistics are based on a survey ascertain that the survey questions are not biased and that the sample used for the survey is representative of the relevant population.

Trust – we do not have the time or energy to verify everything so it is essential that at times we use trusted sources. But what is a trusted source? Who can you trust? Ask yourself whether you have a basis for that trust or whether the source has any self-serving motives behind their words

Understanding – seek to understand and look beyond what is presented to you

Vocabulary – look out for emotionally ‘loaded’ words – try replacing those charged words with neutral vocabulary to look further behind a statement

Words - communicate clearly by choosing your words carefully

The truth comes in many shapes and sizes and is personal to each one of us.

Everyone has different beliefs. These differences don’t make others whose beliefs differ to ours wrong or them bad people for having those beliefs. If those who hold those beliefs aren’t interfering in or negatively affecting the lives of others by hurtful or unlawful actions, then it will usually serve us better to seek to understand the beliefs of others rather than just dismiss them.

When others are causing havoc our only redress can be to keep our integrity and seek to

"Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can."

John Wesley

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