Ambiguity and the Art of Researching the Truth
here’s a meme that a friend posted that I want to talk about. You’ve seen it. There’s two guys looking at a figure on the ground. One of them says it’s a ‘6’, the other that it’s a ‘9’. Below is a caption that is different depending on the version you’re looking at but basically says “Just because you’re right, doesn’t mean I’m wrong.”
Now, first of all, I understand that this is posted with the best of intentions from my friend. They’re basically asking for everyone to step back, take a breath, and maybe we can talk through some of these issues we’re facing. We all have our points of view that we’ve developed through our experiences, our upbringing, our environments, and our friends and family. Just because, the meme is saying, you see something one way doesn’t mean I’m wrong for seeing it another way.
And I agree with this. To a point.
But I hope we don’t stop there. I hope we’re working to be better.
Using the meme as an example, whoever originally wrote that number on the ground meant to either write a ‘6’ or a ‘9’. They had a purpose, an intention. If we expanded that picture out further, would there be more written? Could, perhaps, there be other numbers or even words to go along with that single digit that would help us identify its meaning? If so, then one of those guys is willfully ignoring the reality of the situation by holding onto his personal point of view.
Why would he do that?
Well, it’s hard to admit you made a mistake. We all know that. It’s embarrassing. You feel shame. You’re upset with yourself. “I should have known that!” And imagine someone had walked past that number every day for years. And every day they think to themselves “That’s the number ‘9’.” Then, after years, after literally hundreds of times thinking about it, someone points out that it’s actually a ‘6’. How would you react? Something that you were sure about for a long time is suddenly wrong. That’s unsettling. That’s upsetting. So you’re probably going to deny it. You may even argue about it. And if that other person points to evidence that clearly shows it was meant to be a ‘6’, you’ll deny it. You’ll come up with excuses or convoluted reasoning to justify your position. After all, how could you have been so wrong for so long? The other guy is wrong.
But hey! We can agree to disagree, right?
Well, no. Not really.
See, here’s the rub: certain statements can be true. A fact is a fact, regardless of your opinion about it. Now, I’ll be the first to admit I like my reality a little squishy. My truth can vary with the wind. Everything is an illusion. Everything is just the Universe playing Hide-and-Seek with itself. All that.
But without getting into the esoteric, holographic aspects of reality, certain things are correct. That ‘6’ was meant to be a ‘6’. The fact that you look at it and see a ‘9’ from your point of view does not, in fact, change the meaning of the ‘6’. It only changes your perception of it.
These days, it is so difficult, of course, to parse out what is truth and what are lies. We can’t trust our leaders. We can’t trust our textbooks. We can’t trust the media. Finding the truth is harder than ever.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
We just have to dig a little harder. We have to work a little harder to find it. And it’s going to make us uncomfortable. It’s scary and horrifying and beautiful and terrifying and the freeing. Truth is like that. It doesn’t coddle. You must understand this. If you’re watching the news and feel justified, you’re probably listening to lies. If you’re reading the paper and get angry, you’re probably reading facts.
Lies can heal and lies can hurt. But the truth? The truth doesn’t give a fuck.
If you don’t understand why someone is doing something, instead of immediately judging or condemning them, take a moment and try to learn about their situation. If you don’t agree with someone, stop, take a breath, and ask them to explain why they think the way they do. And, most importantly, LISTEN TO OTHER POINTS OF VIEW. Get out of your echo chamber and challenge yourself to hear other voices. You will never grow if you stay still. You can’t explore new lands if you never leave sight of the shore, as the old saying goes.
Be angry. That’s normal. But direct that anger into something productive.
Be frightened. That’s healthy for survival. But don’t allow your fear to make your decisions.
Be skeptical. That’s important. Be wary of what you’re told, from all sources. But actively research and learn. You’ll be surprised how easy it becomes to spot the BS once you know the truth.
And be hopeful. Be open. Be strong and be engaged with the world around you.
We all only have one shot at this. Let’s make it a good one.