The Yin and Yang of Truth


One of the greatest challenges we all face as we walk this planet is to allow others the integrity of their own experience whilst maintaining our own.

To do this, it's necessary to accept the fact that two seemingly conflicting or even opposing viewpoints or perspectives can simultaneously be true. This conflicts with what most of us learned at school, that there is only one 'right' answer, only one 'right' version of events. And we cling to this. We want this to be true, despite all evidence to the contrary - particularly when we or somebody else is hurt in some way.

Here's a simple and fairly trivial example, but illustrates the point. Two people go to a movie. One thinks it's one of the best movies they've ever seen. The other thinks it was one of the worst movies they've ever seen and that people shouldn't waste their money going to see it.

Is the movie good or bad? What's the truth?  Both experiences are real. Both are true for the individual. The movie is neither good nor bad - like all art, it just is.  Most reasonable people can accept that in this instance, people have different opinions.

But as a society, as a general rule we demand a single truth. And to determine that single truth, as a general rule we have determined that the majority rules. If most people think a movie is excellent, or if it won an Oscar, then we determine that it must be good. But how many times have you been to an Oscar nominated or even winning movie and walked away wondering what all the fuss was about? If a movie has won an Oscar and you don't enjoy it, is your experience invalid? The answer is that of course it isn't. We know and accept that different people have different opinions and experiences of life. We aren't too phased if our friend doesn't like a movie that we loved. We might think they are 'wrong', particularly if the movie we loved won an Oscar, but most of us will allow that others can have different and equally valid opinions of the same movie.

But lets take a slightly less trivial example - albeit a fictional one.  Let's say there's two people - Fred and Harry - walking towards each other on a street, both on their way home. Neither knows the other one but their paths are about to cross. As they near each other, both are deep in thought. Fred is thinking about the great day he had. He was out with friends and they were laughing and joking together. Harry is also thinking. He is thinking about his day, but his wasn't as enjoyable. He was at work and was reprimanded by his boss for the way he dressed, told that he was a laughing stock because his clothes looked stupid and that he needed to look more professional. As they draw close, Fred is thinking about a joke a friend told this afternoon and he smiles to himself. As he's smiling, he looks up and sees Harry, who at that exact moment trips slightly and starts to fall towards Fred.  Fred automatically reaches out a hand and steadies Harry, still smiling from his memories of that afternoon.  

Harry sees the smile and starts burning up inside. How dare this stranger who doesn't know him laugh at him - he must think he's better than him.  His face goes red. And so Harry directs all the pent up rage he's had for the day towards Fred. He doesn't do anything about it. In fact he keeps walking. But in his head he's thinking "what a jerk". He gets home and his flatmate asks him how his day was. And Harry tells him about this arrogant guy in a suit who laughed at him on his way home. His flatmate - George - works with a guy in a suit who is 'always' picking on him. So he resonates with Harry's story and they both start commiserating about the self-entitled arrogant jerks in the world that make their lives a misery. 

Fred, on the other hand, gets home and tells his flatmate about his great day and how he helped out this guy on the way home who looked like he might have been a bit drunk. In Fred's version of their encounter, Fred is the good Samaritan. 

Whose version of events is the truth?  Was Fred the good guy or the bad guy?  In a world looking for a single truth, for 'one' right answer to every question, we can't allow for both of their realities to be true. We would probably say that Fred's version of events was the truth, since knowing his intentions, we know he certainly never intended Harry any harm.

But what if Fred's story had been completely different?  What if, instead of walking along and thinking about his fun afternoon, Fred was actually walking along thinking about how he had humiliated and bullied a guy at work that day.  What if, when he bumped into Harry, he was thinking about how Harry reminded him of that guy and his smile was more sneer than smile. In that case, we'd probably think of Fred as more villain than hero.

Harry's experience is the same regardless.  Harry's 'truth' is the same regardless of what happened to Fred that afternoon. 

We've all been in these types of situations - where we've either felt we've been misinterpreted by others or have interpreted others actions in a way that is completely different to what they intended.  And in these situations, the search for a single truth, a single 'right' interpretation of what happened can often result in the end of relationships. 

Sometimes, getting to the bottom of what really happened means accepting that seemingly opposite interpretations of an event can be simultaneously true. This is the yin and yang of truth.



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