Wisdom

#2 – What Is Truth?

Would you rather have the truth, or have your feelings spared?

If it was possible, you would like them both; that is, whatever the truth is, it is also in line with your ego and your feelings and it makes you feel good about yourself and conversely, it doesn’t make you feel like you’re wrong or lowers your self-esteem.

Rarely, if ever, does life works in such a beautiful way that makes you feel happy all the time.

If I had to choose, I would prefer to have the truth than have me feeling good about myself. This is easier said than done. If someone told me that my hair looks like sh*t, of course I don’t want to hear it.

For the most part, people want to hear that they look good, they want to hear that they look like they’ve lost weight, and that perhaps that their posture is warm, inviting, and authoritative all at the same time (wow!). At the same time, people do not want to hear what is uncomfortable to them. This is the very basis of human nature: our instincts to flee from pain, and towards comfort. But it might do well to remember that self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-confidence are built through overcoming pain, and not through the deriving of pleasure.

A straightforward, but genius image of protecting oneself from the truth. 

The truth is harsh; it is terrible. But, it is a friend.

I would rather be told how things are (the truth), rather than how I would like things to be (falsities). If we know what the truth is, we can respond to situations more appropriately, thereby putting in motion a multitude of changes that make our individual and collective lives happier.

On the other hand, if we don’t know how things are, we expect different results but we don’t know what needs to be changed. This lack of understanding — this is the exodus of a mind towards insanity.

There are people who prefer to live a life of peaceful oblivion, and this is a great way to live, if one is so inclined. But the want to know how things are is a philosophical position and a preference; a life of absolute truth is impossible.

This kind of a life — one that depends on absolute truth — is impossible not only because it is important that social order and communal harmony be maintained (you don’t want to piss people off, some situations require diplomacy, and so on), but also because what is true is not absolute.

Absolute truth, many a times, does not even exist in science — the one place we expect to find objectivity. We figure things out as we go along, and objective proofs are a result of a set of criteria. If the criteria is changed, the outcome can most likely be expected to change as well.

What makes us believe that even one absolute, irrefutable truth exists outside of the scientific world — in a world of people and feelings — if it doesn’t even exist within an objective world? So then — we can classify truths into two categories: subjective (where the truth is different based on time, place, and person), and objective (regardless of time and place, these truths remain the same).

One part of self-development and personal improvement is understanding these different kinds of truths, and that what we believe to be true is dependent on experience and the events that our life has begotten us. As I’ve outlined in my book, at least three kinds of truths exist, and these can be both objective and subjective:

  • Cosmological truths: What we believe to be true about the cosmos and our world; Also what can be measured by science about our cosmos.
  • Societal truths: What we believe to be truth about the society that we live in. What is right and wrong? Morality and Ethics fall under this category; On the objective front, what is true about our society?
  • Individual truths: What you believe to be individual truths. White supremacists (as a group and/or individually) believe that it is true that they are better than other races. Same for other groups and individuals. We largely derive our individual truths from our societal truths. On the objective front, these truths can be about individual anatomy, or genetics and so on.

This differentiation of truths — and the role that our societies and world plays in defining our individuality — is an important differentiation to understand. Y our truth and my truth maybe different, and the truths of people who lived a few hundred years ago are certainly different from our truths today. The truths of a people who live a hundred years hence will be still different.

But if I had the choice to hear what you think about something vs. what you think I would like to hear and what would make me feel good, I would always, without fail, pick the former.

On an individual level, we’re strong enough to deal with the truth, even if it means that it disagrees with what we believe to be true. If we hurt our feelings, we have the strength to get over it. At most, we might learn something about an assumption we’ve always had. But, on the other hand, if we never entertain any other version of truth than our own, we will never have any other way of getting to know what really is except to hear it from the source.

Don’t spare me my feelings.


Tarun’s Book, ‘The Things We Don’t Know’, is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other major retailers worldwide.

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog here.

1 thought on “#2 – What Is Truth?

  1. Ahhhh. The Truth. Along with Love, has spawned perhaps the most prolific discussions since “Time” began. Tongue in cheek. I happen to agree with your personal perspective – – I want to know the Truth. I have learned more about myself in my life by asking questions of others regarding their perspectives. And you could further define the Truth based on Religious, Cultural, Scientific, Social and Geographic perspectives. Is there an “Absolute Truth,” as in ONE TRUTH? I have been told there is. But I didn’t believe it. LOL Always enjoy reading you, Tarun. N

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