Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Truth and Dare

I was reading Jacques Lacan this week for my theory class, and I came upon the following:
"One is never happy making way for a new truth, for it always means making our way into it: the truth demands that we bestir ourselves.  We cannot even manage to get used to the idea most of the time.  We get used to reality.  But the truth we repress." 
I found this really interesting: "the truth demands that we bestir ourselves."  We need to make our way into it, and typically, we don't want to.  Repression is easier. 

Even reality is easier than truth, apparently, because it's what we're used to.

So it's not truth or dare, really.  It's truth and dare.  The truth is a dare all its own.

Why?  How?

I think we tend to think of truth as an absolute that exists outside of ourselves; in particular, we don't want to think of truth as relative, since that seems to diminish its importance or even its respectability.

But maybe truth is contextual (which is something different from relativity, in my opinion).  We need to rethink the contexts in which we comprehend and perceive truths in order to make our way into them.

I think that this has implications for social activism: one of the assumptions of many social activists is that they advocate for a truth that is preferable to the falsehoods they see operating around them.

But if truth is contextual, then this would compel the active social activist to actively rethink the absolute singularity of his or her adopted truth.

In case you can't tell by now, I'm a big fan of Rogerian argument.  Whereas the format of traditional debate tends to polarize positions by establishing potentially adversarial positions that seek to assert themselves as "right," Carl Rogers advocated the effort to establish "common ground" in argumentation.

When I teach Rogerian argument, I think of what Joe South sang in 1969:
If I could be you and you could be me for just one hour
If we could find a way to get inside each other's mind
If you could see me through your eyes instead of your ego
I believe you'd be surprised to see that you'd been blind.
Walk a mile in my shoes, walk a mile in my shoes
And before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes.
Under the guise of conserving shoe-leather, we miss the opportunity to see truth through others' eyes: this is what I mean when I say that I think of truth as contextual.  If we make determinations based on our egos rather than our eyes or--better yet--our hearts and our feelings, we risk a particularly dangerous and particularly absolute form of blindness.

I've found that, when I'm angry and I speak or write to someone in anger, I try to take out the abuse, criticism and accusations, if I can. 

Sometimes I just can't.  What can I say?  I'm human.

But what I find is that, if I can and when I do, I may not lose the anger, but I force myself to rethink what it is fair to say to someone else, given the context of their own, very different experience of the situation I'm encountering.  If I'm abusing, accusing, or criticizing, I'm focusing more on the other person than I am on communicating what I may actually need to communicate--be it pain, anger, sadness, disappointment, or whatever.

So when I spend an hour trying to be you, I end up learning a lot about myself as well.  Perhaps that's truth's dare.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."