We aim to see the truth. But how do we do that when we are looking at the world through our own perceptions and assumptions? People used to believe that the sun revolved around the earth and ordered up reality with that assumption as foundational—until they discovered they were wrong. (Not, of course, until after convicting Galileo of heresy and excommunicating him.) Perceived reality is tough stuff to shake. Science helps, of course. But even with science many would rather falsify the text books than change their settled views of reality.
And what of the stuff beyond science, points of view, for instance. Is it your perspective versus mine? Or your perspective plus mine? Which is more likely to lead to ‘the truth’? There is a reason there are twelve people on a jury tasked to discover ‘the truth’. One perspective and judgment may not be enough, may be biased, may be limited by its own perceptions.
But still we dig in on our own view of ‘truth’. We embrace stereotypes which makes this an easier task and resist hearing other people’s stories. We simplify things to fit with our beliefs rather than embracing and considering other people’s viewpoints.
Why is it so difficult to accept a new truth?
In his book, The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck suggests that we should be constantly examining ‘the truth’…and ourselves:
What does a life of total dedication to the truth mean? It means, first of all, a life of continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination. We know the world only through our relationship to it. Therefore, to know the world, we must not only examine it but we must simultaneously examine the examiner.
Peck goes on to discuss how we all make maps, world views, really, that organize our understanding of the world we find ourselves in:
Our view of reality is like a map with which to negotiate the terrain of life. If the map is true and accurate, we will generally know where we are, and if we have decided where we want to go, we will generally know how to get there. If the map is false and inaccurate, we generally will be lost.
While this is obvious, it is something that most people to a greater or lesser degree choose to ignore. They ignore it because our route to reality is not easy. First of all, we are not born with maps; we have to make them, and the making requires effort. The more effort we make to appreciate and perceive reality, the larger and more accurate our maps will be. But many do not want to make this effort. Some stop making it by the end of adolescence. Their maps are small and sketchy, their views of the world narrow and misleading. By the end of middle age most people have given up the effort. They feel certain that their maps are complete and the Weltanschauung is correct (indeed, even sacrosanct), and they are no longer interested in new information. It is as if they are tired. Only a relative and fortunate few continue until the moment of death exploring the mystery of reality, ever enlarging and refining and redefining their understanding of the world and what is true.
As you go through your day today, challenge your roadmap. Are those obstacles really insurmountable, or is there a slightly longer path leading to the same destination? Are you trapped, or can you backtrack and try a different fork on the path? Is that person really beyond understanding? Those people beyond hope? That fact established?
Challenging ourselves and our foundational assumptions isn’t dangerous, it’s liberating. What is out there waiting for us to discover if we just take that first step? For a brilliant TED talk on the two types of mindsets, one that leads to more knowledge, and one that, well, doesn’t (“Why You Think You’re Right Even When You’re Wrong”), go here. And for a further discussion of fixed v. growth mindsets, consider this.