Truth is a strange creature.
In one sense, truth is only what our senses are capable of perceiving. In others, what we’re capable of believing. Some media personalities, teachers and preachers make careers convincing their followers that they alone are the purveyors of truth and to be wary of any false profit distorting that truth. Some are snake oil salesmen and others are convinced of their own superiority. None like questions.
There are factual truths. That which is quantifiable like the number of the toes on our feet or the distance from earth to the moon. There are personal truths. These are our intangible values. What we to believe to be good and what we to believe is not. Within the realm of personal truths, values differ wildly between cultures, tribes, families, and individuals.
Who then is right?
There is much that we don’t understand that exist in our minds neither in the daylight or dark. They are vague shapes in a foggy gray. They are the unknown. They are the other.
We can approach that which we don’t understand with either curiosity or caution. Caution being the path of least resistance. The curious approach the unknown with a hope of increasing their knowledge, wealth or tribe. Some approach with naivety and some with uncertainty. They approach with the hope they will be increased in some positive way. But at their core, they approach with hope.
Caution tells us to wait. Caution tells us not to get any closer. Caution reminds us that sometimes there really are monsters at the gate. It’s caution that builds locks for our doors and machines of war. Fear creates a duty to protect a people from invasion or disease.
They are opposing forces. Curiosity advances, caution bunkers down.
Both have value. Both need each other. What some dismiss as compromise, others call balance. A sailboat needs sails to catch the wind and a strong hull to keep from letting water in and sinking. Together they work to both advance its goals and protects its boundaries.
There is a reason we cook soup in a pot and not on a griddle. Caution gives curiosity its shape. It says, “This is far enough.” One of the most important elements of creative work are boundaries. Without boundaries, good ideas tend to flow all over the place without ever becoming cohesive. It’s just a mess dripping all over the stove.
Without caution, curiosity strolls foolishly into slaughter. Without curiosity, caution starves itself within its fortress. Together they form the elasticity to both explore and also stay tethered.
Problems arise when belief in one or the other becomes dogma and that certainty becomes self-righteousness.
Pushing back against opposing ideas is nothing new. Neither is weaponizing them. Growing up in the Bible Belt, I often saw this from those who came from more fundamentalist faiths. Their truth was the only truth. To doubt or to question was to sin. These churches had predictable outcomes. With no elasticity to absorb new questions, they fractured when disagreements arose. New churches with new dogmas were established from the fragments and each fully convinced of their own truth.
The cycle continues.
As church attendance has dwindled in a post-Christian western culture, that fundamentalism has since been applied the political world instead of the metaphysical one.
This has been the place of the greatest frustration and malcontent in recent years, simply knowing what’s “true” and what isn’t. Over the past two decades, the tribal tendencies of humans to entrench themselves have found the perfect cocktail in social media algorithms mixed with partisan media. Echo chambers continually reinforce belief. Cognitive dissonance and computer programs keep us from any information that may contradict. Combined, they create the perfect breeding ground for conflict.
That self-righteousness has not confined itself to a political spectrum. It can easily be found on both the left and the right with each damning the other and neither admitting any fault of their own. My side only tells the truth. Your side only lies. Humility is for the weak.
Anger, frustration and apathy set in, and nihilism fills the gap.
We’re all just scrolling on our phones and staring at comfortable shadows.
But sometimes we need to get pulled, kicking and screaming, out of our cave to see the light.