I want to talk about truth and the tricks we play on ourselves and how they keep us in a sort or blissful but dangerous ignorance. I want to build your faith in the idea that honest searches for truth are not so scary after all. I hope this post will help you take courage and watch yourself a little closer, be a little more aware of what goes on inside while you deal with various kinds of truth — especially truth that can make us better, happier people.
In part 1 of this post, I talked about how we seek truth for every little task and now I want to make you aware of the games we play with ourselves.
First of all, the idea that truth escapes us is misleading. But it’s an idea we love because it implies that we are not responsible for our ignorance. It’s a way to feel good about a little laziness maybe, or perhaps to avoid guilt for not making the effort to find the truth.
The fact is we are completely immersed in truth all the time. Most of the time it washes over us and it only “escapes us” because we don’t really want it.
Happiness is Knowing and Doing
Truth can help us see that we live in an incredible, beautiful, and loving universe. It’s a two-step process: learning truth and following it. My life has shown me that this works. The harder I work at this the happier I get. Here’s an example.
How Truth “Escaped” Me For Thirty Years
My wife and I had been married about thirty years before I decided one day to try to figure out why we sometimes ended up a little cross with one another when I was sure we actually agreed. I had to really work at this and I replayed the most recent scene in my mind, over and over. There seemed to be a pattern regardless of the subject. I was conflicted and after while I realized that. That was a big help because I saw that I might find that it was all my fault. And that meant I was responsible and might have to change.
Those were unpleasant thoughts and I wanted to forget the whole thing like I had done many times before. But I was tired of this pattern and said to myself, “I gotta figure this out no matter what.”
So with that self-talk and some artificial courage, I kept on thinking. It turned out that I was very close to understanding what was going on and as soon as I decided to take full responsibility for my own actions my mind cleared and I suddenly understood.
It went like this: She would make a statement, didn’t matter much what it was about. In my usual fashion, I would turn the idea upside down just to see what I could see. I might observe something that was interesting and without thinking make a comment on it. Because it was the back side of the coin, so to speak, I came across as arguing for the opposite idea. So that was the pattern.
I am a compulsive analyst. I guess that’s why insights come easily to me. But apparently, that is only true for things where I am just an observer. In this case, I was at least a partner in the crime of our disharmony if not the cause of it, and that complicated my analysis and blocked my understanding of it.
That was the huge progress I made that day: I was avoiding the truth because I really didn’t want to know.
So, the bottom line is that a fear of being the problem kept me from solving it. The games we play!
That is why I am writing this post. There are many versions of this self-defeating behavior where we avoid the truth that could have freed us long ago. What a silly and sorry thing.
Motivation: Understanding Our Relationship with Truth
Much of the time we spend seeking out truth, our motivation is innocent and pure. Where are my socks? Which car has the best gas mileage? Who will I see today? What will be most pleasing to them? or empowering for me? (That last one moved from innocence toward manipulation.)
So motivation sets an environment for our search, it is a question of the worthiness of our desires. Our minds are expert at noticing things that are relevant to a current goal. If our motivation is pure, the truth we find will be in harmony with that innocence. And if not, then – well you already know what happens when you are looking for justification for an attitude you want to have.
It should be obvious, that we want the pure truth, not information pre-moistened with some attitude or viewpoint. Clarity is king. Mangled truth will give us trouble like trying to put together a puzzle whose pieces have been worked over by a teething toddler. Pure motivation does not come naturally. But it is worth the effort.
As a physicist, I often think how our moon shots would have gone if the engineers had sought for truth the same way some of us seek for religious or political truth. That struggle is between seeking for truth and seeking for justification for some idea. That little battle goes on in our hearts and minds continually. The winner of the battle determines the kind of truth we will find, for surely we will find what we seek.
The famous proverb of Jesus Christ comes to mind: “Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” That applies to all kinds of seeking. If, for example, your priority is to keep your political opinions you will seek information that supports them and you will avoid avenues that might prove you wrong. Notice that this is a choice to stagnate your political position.
In a similar fashion,we may seek only the truth that will justify our present lifestyle. This is a choice to stagnate our lifestyle - not a way to improve our level of happiness.Click To Tweet
Now don’t just gloss this over and go on. Think about it. Think of the price you are paying to hold on to a less than perfect position. Any truth is a good truth.
We need to understand the risks involved here. If only the whole truth can produce good moon shots, then our lives can only be happiest if we learn the whole truth and put ourselves in harmony with it. Laziness won’t cut it and fear will prevent it.
Falling In an Out of Love
A healthy marriage is one of the top sources of happiness. And falling in and out of love are good examples of how we often manipulate our relationship to truth. Now I’m going to ignore “chemistry” here so we can focus on the issue at hand. We talk ourselves in and out of love.
While falling in love we seek and find endearing qualities in our friend. We gloss over failings, justify bad behavior and otherwise arrange to fall in love. We do that because we want to – it’s motivation again. Possibly we just want to enjoy the feeling of being in love, so we arrange to fall in.
Then later we decide without even realizing it, that we would rather not be in love. That will happen because of some motivation – the critical thing to watch for. So we begin to notice things that we can use to justify our now critical viewpoint. We begin to notice faults and to focus on them. We seek and find reasons to not be in love anymore. If we keep practicing that we will surely succeed in falling out of love. So where was the truth?
Fear of Truth is the Way to Avoid It
If you are afraid of truth you will never find it. So you must have the courage to look, and the faith that it will be worth the effort. Can you think of an experience where you looked for some truth and then regretted it? Probably. But do you regret the knowing, or is it the emotion that you would rather not have?
In my own experience in trying to watch myself, I have not regretted learning any truth. But remorse and sadness have been a result sometimes. Still, it was better to know than not know.
When a truth presents itself and you decide to avoid it you may be in self-deception mode. It can be helpful to examine your motivation at that point.
A truth swept under the rug will haunt you like a ghost. Truth is powerful and it will trouble you, lurking in the back of your mind, raking at your confidence, cutting your passion and sapping your strength. Far better to get in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eye and have some good, honest self-talk. Get all the issues on the table. What am I avoiding? Why am I avoiding this? Where am I headed with this? What if I keep this up, then what?
Sometimes the most important truth in your life is the one you didn’t want to know.
And watch out for this one: “What difference does it make?” That’s a hard clue that you’ve got a bad attitude and are preparing to shoot yourself in the foot. Ask Hillary how that worked out for her.
Progress Requires Change
If we want to improve our circumstances in life or in our hearts, we must embrace change, even seek change with enough desire to achieve it in spite of our comfort zone’s silly warnings. I have found that an adventurous attitude goes a long way toward helping me exercise the faith to keep on seeking.
Truth and Morality
Brushing truth under the rug seems like an innocent thing, but it is actually a lie. It is either self-defeating or immoral behavior. And what could be more immoral than self-defeating behavior? You not only injure yourself but you reduce your ability to help those around you. When an aircraft loses cabin pressure, you put your own oxygen mask on first so you will be able to help others with theirs.
Sometimes we are tempted to “tell a white lie” and most of those times it is to ourselves. But the idea that a lie can be “white” is an oxymoron. We all do this little mind game of avoiding truth. We do it instinctively as part of our survival mechanism. We get comfortable and don’t want to risk upsetting that comfort. But at what cost? My experience is that the more we invest the more we reap the rewards of honest effort.
Now maybe you don’t think any of this stuff applies to you. I venture to say that if you think that, you are in denial and you need to go back and read this again and ponder it.
In fact, we could all (including me) benefit from reading this once a month.