“The truth will set you free.”
I’ve heard these words my whole life, as I’m sure many of you have. The origin is John 8:32, a verse in the New Testament of the Bible. However, the words and the idea of the power of truth have spread much wider than just Christian circles. They denote a belief that upholds entire value systems adopted by many religious and pagan civilizations throughout history—that truth is associated with freedom. That truth is good. That truth is what is right—knowing the truth, telling the truth, keeping the truth. Truth as in what happened, as in honesty, as in what is ethical, what is right, what is just, what is inherent, what is vulnerable or transparent. All keys to a more free self, society, and world.
But what is t/Truth? And how much of our personal understanding of what is true is actually part of some cosmic, universal Truth?
Okay, let me be really honest—“what is Truth” is a much bigger question than I am able to tackle. My brain starts to deteriorate about seven and a half minutes into theoretical philosophies on such ginormous matters.
Like, I feel things disintegrating inside my brain as I read…
But on a not-anywhere-near-a-full-time-philosopher level, I’ve been thinking a lot about truth. As I scroll through social media feeds and read posts and make sense of political memes, I am fascinated with the concept of truth. About how people come to form their opinions about what is true, right, and valuable. About how we take what we were taught by parents, politics, religion, and various social structures and mix it all up with our own life experiences to create some sort of intellectual modeling clay. About how we take that clay and shape a personal worldview that is quite intricate—having bends and turns, ups and downs. It becomes so real and known to us, it acts like an actual structure we can live in, with walls and windows and stairs and doors. It becomes our shelter, our safe place, where we feel most comfortable. The hows and whats that make up our personal understandings of truth—which, ultimately, make up the entire way in which we view the world—become a spiritual, emotional, and intellectual home to our individual selves. That’s why, I think, it feels so scary and personal when the storms of differing opinions come rolling down our street (or our feeds). These storms threaten the entire structure of how we view and make sense of the world. And it feels unsafe. No one wants their house invaded or torn apart.
But there is a problem with this tendency of hunkering down into a set of homey and comfortable—fixed and rooted—personal truths. The problem is that no one person—no one family, community, country, generation, or organized religion—has arrived at the fullness of cosmic Truth. (We’re gonna leave deities out of this one.) The problem is we are all extremely limited in how we interpret and understand what we think to be truth.
How do you know that for sure?
Well, I don’t. But that’s my best guess.
We know in part, and hopefully, we’ve gotten closer and clearer and wiser since the dawn of time. Ideally, every generation stands on the shoulders of those who came before, growing and stretching closer to the ultimate Truth that has burdened our hearts with values like justice, equality, order, goodness, mercy, kindness, belonging, and love. (These come from somewhere, after all. So we’ll just non-philosophically lump them in with that ultimate Truth we’re trying to find and access.)
If we can admit we only know in part, that we do not, in fact, have all truth or can even begin to know how far along on the Truth spectrum we might actually be, we should be able to make a good argument for always being on the move as far as truth is concerned. For never settling down, for never digging out a foundation, for never pouring the concrete or putting up the walls. We would probably do much better with temporary structures that help us find shelter from what we don’t understand in life, but ones that can easily be picked up and moved forward as the path becomes more clear and obvious. Structures that allow the winds of life and the changes and revelations of society to reverberate through their entirety.
It’s not a perfect analogy, and I don’t mean to imply we should build our house on “the sand” and not “the rock”… but maybe I’m suggesting we often can’t tell the difference between sand or rock when it comes to how we view the world. Maybe what we thought was so solid is actually pretty shifty. Maybe what we thought was rickety has more strength and validity than we first assumed.
Maybe we’ve spent massive chunks of our lives defending certain things and people and interpretations of various ideals just because we were taught it was right or true. And we’ve never given ourselves the space to back up and reevaluate if it was solid ground to begin with. Or if, just maybe, a more clear interpretation and understanding has been unveiled.
So here’s the conclusion I came to while vigorously rubbing dry shampoo into my hair today (while five unruly children ran around hooting and hollering in the background of my churning mind):
A fixed worldview that does not grow, refuses to admit wrongfulness or shortsightedness, and that will not find the capacity to learn from those who hold opposing opinions cannot recognize the humanity in—and assume the good intentions of—those who hold a different worldview. When our personal truth becomes so grounded in a certain spot and position, it robs our ability to peer into the understandings of others, and to see those others as similar, not-so-different humans who also want what is “true” and good and best for our individual selves and society at large. It is a worldview that is held in vain, offers little (if not nothing) to our overall journey of human progression, and is terribly detrimental to our current society’s immediate quandaries.
A worldview that is set gets stuck.
It’s not that we can’t hold anything sacred. That we can’t have a deep faith that is constant and an ultimate cornerstone in our lives. That we can’t take a bold and radical stance on issues that really matter to us. Rather, it’s our personal understanding and interpretation of faith and justice and freedom and truth that often trip us up and keep others at arm’s length. That makes the people on the other side of the aisle or line look like enemies, rather than fellow seekers of the Truth who hold a different or varied interpretation.
“The truth will set you free.” It assumes movement. Change. That whatever once was becomes something new, fresh, better. Truth—real, capital “t” Truth—leads us forward. Not backwards. Not still or stagnant. The Big Truth we hold onto so tightly (in whatever form we express it, whether through faith, science, politics, etc.) should be a Truth that changes our daily truths—making tomorrow’s truth look different than yesterday’s. It should be a light that pours in to expose our misconceptions, misunderstandings, and our own hesitancy to justice, compassion, and selflessness. If we are not changing, our Big Truth and Guiding Light might not be as true as we’d like to think. At least, our understanding of it and interpretation of it might not be as clear as we imagine.
How we see the world—the people who populate it, the governments that order it, the selves that color and liven it—should never grow stagnant. Our limited understandings should not be “enough.” The progress we made yesterday or last year or last century is not “enough.” The understandings of our beliefs need to ebb. Our interpretations of our values need to flow. All under and within and following that Big Truth and Guiding Light that ushers us into a greater, wider, more broad understanding of what it means to love, to be free, to be equal.
So before I spend another 1,300 words talking in circles, I’ll close by asking you these questions (the same I’ve been asking myself for a few weeks now): What is it you think you know? How did you arrive at the worldview you currently hold? Who and what have shaped the views you hold most sacred and precious? Why are they so important to you? What’s the point of it all? (No need to give answers to these questions here or on my social media feeds; they’re for your own personal consideration.)
I don’t ask out of doubt in you or your values, or because I’ve come to some great answer or conclusion of my own. Rather, I ask because these are questions we all need to be exploring if our goal is truly to sharpen our understanding of what is true and right and just and good for our own selves, our own country, and our shared world. We are at a some big junctures, people. This is a good thing—opportunities to better ourselves and our world sit right on our doorstep. The only thing that will hold us back is ourselves. Our set, stuck selves.
As my almost-four-year-old, too-smart-for-his-own-good Joel told me today, “Just be cool, mom. Just be cool.” (By the way, you should always be nervous when your child tells you this after a long time of being silent and out of sight.) But it’s true. Many of us could use some official chilling out. Not because things don’t matter. Not because we don’t have incredibly important roles to play in moving our families and communities and society toward a greater understanding of what is best for now, best for the future. But because of this. Because we are taking our own selves so seriously that we are often missing what is really important. What is really good. What is really true. What really needs our thought, our support, our voice, our silence, our vote.
I invite you to ask, listen, reevaluate, and realign with me as we as we aim to make today brighter than yesterday, tomorrow more “true” than today.
Until next time, Ana