“Truth is best served by recognizing a viewpoint as only a viewpoint, and refraining from taking that extra step of regarding it as true to the exclusion of all other views. In other words, all views—even correct views—are best held gently, rather than grasped firmly.” ~Andrew Olendzki
I was raised in a faith tradition that believed that there was one truth, one right viewpoint, and the goal of life seemed to be grasping that one true viewpoint as firmly as possible. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to let go of that surety. Not only am I less sure that it is possible for me to know the absolute truth of anything, but I am also more convinced that clinging to a viewpoint with that kind of ferocity makes it less likely that those with other views will be able to get beyond my attitude enough to even hear my viewpoint clearly enough to consider it.
I became a scientist (at least partially) because it seemed to fit my early worldview that it was possible to unequivocally prove the truth. However, the more I lived into the true nature of science, the more I grasped the idea that it is only possible to prove something to be false. The scientific method is based upon the idea that nothing can be absolutely proven to be true because there is always the possibility that there is a condition not yet tested that would prove it false (or at least incomplete). There are certainly scientific theories that we treat as true because there is enough weight of evidence behind them to indicate that the likelihood is very high, but everything is open to the possibility that we do not quite yet have it right (as the Theory of Relativity did to Newtonian physics).
This is even more true in the realm of human beings with their great variety, adaptability, and contradiction. We see it even in the eye-witness reports to an event, where everyone seems to experience a different version of the situation. I was in a minor car accident last winter in which a car bounced off several other cars while crossing an icy bridge. At least four different people saw this happen and gave their story to the policewoman who arrived on the scene. While we did all agree on the license plate number, some of us thought the car was some variation of red or burgundy, others thought it was blue! If we have trouble coming to an agreement on something that should be as clear as a color of a car, how can we ever find consensus on more complex situations?
We are in election season here in the US—a season that seems to last longer and become more vitriolic every round—and there are many who would be quick to affirm that their political viewpoint is the only true one. Indeed, I have certain issues where I fall into that same trap. But as I’ve watched the grip with which our politicians hold their viewpoints to be the exclusively correct ones tighten over the years, I’ve noticed that we seem to get less accomplished as a country. Rather than being willing to compromise and finding ways to work together, the parties seem to be more committed to party loyalty than to the betterment of the country as a whole. It’s hard to see how this serves anyone well, but is this not just a mirror of how we often act in our personal relationships? More committed to clinging to our viewpoint—our truth—than to the relationships we cherish?
What about those cases where there really is a correct view? After all, that car was a specific color that could be determined once the police located it using the license plate number we had unanimously reported. There was absolutely a correct view. But as we stood there in the freezing rain, arguing over who was correct was not terribly helpful to any of us in establishing the truth of what had happened. I am sure the car was burgundy with blue license plates, but grasping that view tightly in my fists would have just led to an unproductive argument. So I told my version to the detective as I remembered it, while holding it loosely enough to acknowledge that I could be wrong. (I did supply the paper on which I had written down the license plate number, though.)
What if I could live more of my life with a similar gentle holding of the truth? As I have experienced more of life, I’ve noticed that my viewpoint on any number of things has shifted—sometimes radically—as I have encountered new experiences, witnessed new situations, and gotten to know people whose experiences expanded my own. Life is not nearly as neatly categorized as I once thought, and I am well aware that even the viewpoints that I hold to be true in this moment may still shift further as I continue to encounter more of life than I have to date.
When I grasped my viewpoints tightly as absolute truth, my entire worldview underwent violent earthquakes every time new data forced a reconsideration. Each change was traumatic and threatening. The more I hold these viewpoints gently, the more easily I am able to incorporate new data to create graceful shifts in perspective that don’t uproot my entire world. This doesn’t mean that I hold onto nothing at all or that anything goes with me; it just means that I recognize my limitations of being able to fully know the truth, so I recognize that my understanding will continue to grow and mature over time. I can dance into growth with this gently held truth in a way that I could not when I was grasping it too tightly.
Election season gives me plenty of opportunities to observe my relationship with my viewpoints on any number of topics. My hope is that every time I find myself gripping onto some viewpoint with all my strength that I can find the courage to loosen my grasp enough to hold it more gently and dance in the moment. Will you join me?
A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.