Truth is something that is seen as an absolute. Something that either is, or isn’t.
Truth can be differentiated from opinion or supposition, because truth is based on fact. It is supposed to be objective rather than subjective.
And the search for truth is seen as a positive and perhaps even noble thing.
But truth can also be elusive.
Because it is also based on belief.
When I look at dictionary definitions of truth, I find two categories of definitions that are very distinct in their meanings.
The first category talks about reality. Things that are factual, verifiable, and indisputable.
The second category talks about that which is accepted as the truth.
And these are two very different things.
Why does this matter? Think of the following quote:
Often, that which we think of as truth is simply our perception.
All of our experiences come through our senses. We see things, hear them, and feel them. We don’t experience things objectively; instead all of our experiences are filtered through the lens of our own experiences. You and I may witness the same event, and come away with a completely different understanding of what we experienced.
One person has had different experiences from the other. The things they notice, things that resonate with them, and the way they interpret an event can be very different from the other person.
And as the quote above says, each of those interpretations may be real.
That’s not to say that no one is every lying – because people definitely do.
People lie for many different reasons.
Sometimes people will lie because they are ashamed or embarrassed. Maybe they don’t want to admit that they don’t understand something. Maybe they are trying to deny doing something that makes them embarrassed. Or maybe they are “exaggerating”, to either make a story more interesting or to cast themselves in a better light. I think we all do these things to some degree – though hopefully it’s not often, and we feel uncomfortable when we doe it.
Other times people will lie in order to intentionally deceive or manipulate others. I suppose in some scenarios this may originate from shame/embarrassment as well, but I am talking about a different level of lying here (I know, it’s kind of grey where one type of lying ends and another begins, but hopefully you get what I mean).
With this type of lying, the belief portion of truth is often used as a tool. Someone is intentionally deceiving other people, and they are using systematic layers of deception to try and convince another person of the truth of what they are selling.
When their lies start to become apparent, they simply change the narrative. They may try to twist the meaning of words to support what they are saying, or they may simply deny ever saying or doing the things they have done in the past.
Gaslighting is a term that describes a form of “psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group”. The person who is using gaslighting uses “persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction and lying in attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief”.
See, in some cases the “truth” is what you can make people believe is true. People who gaslight understand this, and they use this to their advantage.
The foundation of all interpersonal relationships is trust. We trust people to actually mean what they say. We trust them to be upfront with us. We know people make mistakes and we know people will sometimes lie, but we *want* to take people at face value and believe them.
Personally I like to assume the best of people, and I think it would be exhausting to constantly question and doubt the things I hear.
There are times that I’ll be talking with a buddy about something that has happened in the past, and we will have very different takes on the same event. Sometimes it’s details, sometimes it’s what we took away from the event.
I think this is expected, because memory can be faulty and we also experience things through the filter of our own experiences. Still, when it happens it often makes me pause for a moment and wonder – am I wrong? Is he/she wrong? Are we both wrong and we are just walking away with our own interpretation of events?
Usually, it doesn’t matter.
However if this happens a few times with the same person, I would suggest trusting your feelings and starting to ask yourself “why”. Is this a matter of perception? Of memory? What is it you are questioning if you are wrong about? Does the other person have anything to gain by you being wrong? And most importantly are there patterns of behavior that are making you uncomfortable?
Often people who victims of gaslighting realize after the fact that all the pieces were right there – they just couldn’t see them. And that inability to see them was often because they were being intentionally misdirected and led to question their own thoughts and beliefs.
In addition to people shaping our understanding of the world through lying and gaslighting, we can also do this to ourselves. Sometimes when we come into something with a preconceived notion of what we want to believe, we end up focussing on the evidence that validates that belief (and ignoring the things that may make us question it).
Let’s say you have an argument with your partner so you tell a friend about it – and that friend doesn’t understand your perspective or “sides” with your partner. So you tell a different friend, and again they don’t understand your perspective. So you keep telling other people until you tell someone who finally “gets you”.
I call this “shopping for answers”, and it may make you feel good in the moment but all it does is help solidify a belief that you already had. To me this is simply a form of lying to yourself.
Truth seems like it should be a straightforward thing, but it can be elusive to find.
Between experiencing the world through the lens of our own beliefs and experiences, and having a distorted view of things because we lack information, have been provided the wrong information, or are only seeing the things we want to see; what we consider truth is often really just a matter of belief.
So what can we do? How do we search for the truth?
I think the best thing we can do is accept that what we believe is simply what we believe right now, and we may be wrong.
This doesn’t mean we need to constantly live in doubt, but maybe we just don’t shop for answers. Don’t just look for things to prove you are right. Look for things that challenge you, and accept that you may be wrong.