Thursday, November 12, 2015

What is the truth?

I believe that being a good person takes much more than simply avoiding being a bad person. Besides that, bad people and things are relative, completely. To a multiple felon doing ten years in prison, smoking pot or getting drunk might not even make the bad person radar. But to a churchgoing mother of three young children, those infractions could be very serious.

Lately, a certain word has been on my mind, and that word is Truth. If one were to think about that word long enough, he or she might just find it’s one of the deepest, most complicated words in our language. There are a dozen ways it can be used, and correctly, but the way I speak of is actual, rock-bottom truth.

Yes, it can be true that it’s Wednesday or that it’s sunny outside; a line or bicycle rim can be true; we always speak of true love in our culture; we like to say we know who our true friends are, and “the truth” is supposed to be revealed in courtrooms across the land.

But I mean real truth, our truth. What I’ve found in my musings is that truth has (at least) three angles: What we think or tell ourselves is happening, what we’d like to have happen, and what is actually happening——this last one would qualify as truth.

For instance: Beth is a weekend meth user. She tells herself it’s okay because she isn’t on the streets, doing nasty things for the drug on a daily basis, and therefore doesn’t have a problem. She can walk away whenever she wants, but she has fun with her new friends and, frankly, a part of her enjoys being a little rebellious.

She’d like to be out of the scene entirely because she knows it’s wrong, it’s unhealthy, and it’s a bad path to take. However, how is she supposed to tell all her new friends that she’s decided against what they feel is an okay thing to do? How is she to walk away now when there is so much more potential fun to be had? After all, she isn’t paying for the drug because her new friends already have it and share.

What’s actually happening is that she’s at risk of becoming an addict. She’s breaking the law, she is possibly doing permanent damage to her body, she’s risking her life and her freedom. That’s the truth of it, but the truth isn’t what we like to hear, say, share, or remember.

Sometimes we tell ourselves that someone picking on us at the workplace is okay, because maybe that person outranks us or has promised us something in the future. What we’d like to have happen is for the abuse to stop, but because we tell ourselves it’s temporary, we deem it as acceptable. What’s actually happening is terrible and very likely grounds for termination or even a lawsuit against the offender. Fear prevents so many people from blowing the whistle.

In chess, the old masters like Alekhine often talked about finding the truth in a position. I imagine their thought process was much the same: Here’s what I see happening on the board, here’s what I’d like to see happen on the board, and here’s what’s actually happening on the board. In other words, they looked until they took their own blinders off, until the position became clear and all the false dreams and emotions attached to the situation were under control and/or gone entirely, and only then would they make a decision, a move.

Once they’d found the truth.

Wouldn't it be neat if we could do this more often in real life? How cool would it be to possess the time, education, and resources to step back from any given situation, break it down, and then act only when we were certain we were doing the right thing for ourselves and anyone else involved? I think a large majority of people would hop on that train were it to stop at their depots.

But life doesn’t work that way, does it? It isn't cut and dry, we can't break everything down into magical threes and sift through the sand to find our diamonds. Life is tough, some decisions are permanent, and most of the time, only our general mindset is there to guide us. If we are negative and think the worst is coming, then it probably is. If we are neutral, if we wish to blend in and disappear and not be involved fully, then it’s likely we will go unnoticed.

If, however, we have a good, positive mindset, if we care and make an effort, any effort, to do the right thing, to do the good thing, and to avoid getting into harmful situations, then life will give back accordingly. Of course, we will all experience good and bad and sad things as we go through life, but the way we think on a daily basis can and will help us define our own truths.