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my musings

To Tell You the Truth

If you live with a human who is between the ages of 9 and 18, or you have been a human between the age of 9 and 18, then you will recognize the phrase “I KNOW” with a familiarity that probably makes your face scrunch up. (Other fan favorites of the same genre include,  “OMG, I already know.” “Whatever.” “Psht.” And my personal favorite: “You would think that.”) If any of these feel familiar then you know how much they block intimacy. They shut down conversations, which is admittedly probably the point of them. At that age, our sweet little selves are working over time to exert independence, and it feels more important to KNOW something, than to LEARN something. And if you ask any of those sweet souls who are in this lovely stage of life, they will in fact confirm that they KNOW THE TRUTH OF EVERYTHING. But beyond teens, one doesn’t have to look far to find uncountable examples of “truth” being spouted from just about every place that words can be spouted from. 

I was thinking about the value of truth the other day. And how our idea of truth has somehow become a very all-or-nothing construct. There is a truth, it exists, it is knowable, and I know it. Probably most of us would say that we believe this at some level. It seems almost obvious, doesn't it? At the risk of spinning out in philosophical angst, I think we can all agree that our hearts and minds find some comfort in believing that indeed there is a truth and, most comforting of all, that I know this truth.  We cling to this in order to make it through our days. It means I don’t have to work so hard to figure things out. It means I can predict how things will go, and understand what things have occurred. Or at least I can understand and predict according to my truth. Yeah, that feels pretty right, doesn’t it?

But here’s the muddy water. What if there isn’t one truth? What if there are many truths, and in reality, it’s the blending of all these many truths that make up the ultimate truth? And what if knowing THE truth, would mean I had to understand and comprehend ALL the truths and, well the truth is, my brain just isn’t capable of that. Then that would mean that at any given time, the only truth I could possibly know is a fraction of the whole at this moment in time. Feels a little like trying to explain the universe from the view of a grain of sand, doesn't it?

Did you know that the conscious part of our brain takes in about 2,000 bits of information per second. But it only processes about 40 bits? And our subconscious sensory system takes in about 11 million bits of information per second. (These numbers are not made up, you can find them reported in lots of places, more or less the same.) So that means, as I sit here and type, I’m processing only about .00000364 percent of the “truth” of my experience. And thank goodness for that. Could you imagine if we needed to process and comprehend and make sense of 11 million bits of information per second? If we add that up for all the moments and experiences and relationships in our lives, could we be humble enough to admit that we really have a very narrow understanding of this human experience? 

Thinking we know the ultimate truth, and that it is the only truth, requires us to “know” that someone else is wrong. That we understand their experience better than they do. We see this play out in media, politics, social media (maybe the holy grail of “truths”) and on the playground. People yelling their truths at each other as if they're .00000364% is the only thing in existence. 

But what if, at least in our most intimate relationships, we unwound our fundamental beliefs that one truth negates the other. Maybe there is one unknowable truth but many many many knowable truths. We get to know this tiny slice of the pie. We can know the story that our thoughts build to explain the .000000364% of data points that it chooses it pay attention to. While teeny-tiny and certainly not the whole story, these are the data points that create my understanding of my experience. And it is valuable and meaningful and “true.” And so is yours. And when yours and mine meet, we can either argue endlessly about which is fundamentally right or wrong, or we can accept that both are true and they actually go together. They make more of a whole, if we can accept them both. 

Think about how many times you “know” what your partner means so you don’t really even have to listen to their words. How many times do you “know” how they will react, or get angry before they even speak because you “know” what they are about to say. This “knowing” really and truly is one of the most intimacy blocking beliefs we have. Because we know, we stop being curious. We stop wondering. We stop asking. We stop communicating. Why bother, when we already know. 

Last week I talked about listening. In order to learn how to listen, we first must admit that we don’t know. We don’t know what our partner is thinking. We don’t know what they think of the movie. We don’t know what .000000364% of the data points are meaningful to them at this moment. We could guess, but we don’t know. 

I wonder what it would be like if people in conversations all over the place learned how to not know? We might all be a lot more curious. We might ask more questions. We might just learn something. And we might find a whole lot more intimacy when we open ourselves up to the blending of many truths. 

This week find some times to practice saying the following: 

“I dont know.” 

“Tell me more.” 

“I want to understand your perspective.” 

“I’m curious about your experience.” 

Think how much bigger the world might get if we were open to a little more than what we already think we know.

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