The Gratitude Challenge’s twenty-ninth topic is “Truth”.
Starting with a quote from Nietzsche is always a good choice to come off as someone intellectual:
nein, gerade Thatsachen gibt es nicht, nur Interpretationen;Friedrich Nietzsche: Nachgelassene Fragmente Ende 1886-Frühjahr 1887. Kritische
Studienausgabe Band 12. München 1980, S. 315.)
Ok, so this is the original text and if you read German, you’ll notice that it’s more of an excerpt from a longer string of thoughts, but what people did us to rephrase it to something catchier and still cite Nietzsche as the author. So here we go, catchy catchy:
There are no facts, only interpretations.“Nietzsche” (kind of)
I think it makes sense that if we process information in our head and since our brains are not all the same, the incoming signals will be processed in a different way and hence a seeming fact is eventually just our very own interpretation.
Now the question is of course: What is truth? Are facts the building plots of “the truth”? If there are no facts, does it follow that there is then also no truth?
My life coach uses to say, “this is your reality, but it’s not the truth”. So, are reality and truth different? Is reality our interpretation of signals, whereas truth is the conglomerate of facts, the world how it is always there but how we will never see it because we cannot see without interpreting? But then who decides what is “objective”, what is the truth, if it is just an abstract construct?
When you ask people if truth is important for them, most would probably say yes, meaning that they expect other people – and hopefully themselves – to “be honest and tell the truth”. Yet, if truth is an abstract concept, honesty cannot exist. Or rather, honesty is then not telling the truth but telling things as close as possible to our own reality. But if someone else’s perception and therewith reality is completely different, would they then accuse the other person to be telling lies?
In the case of my life coach the sentence “it’s your reality but not the truth” is meant to make me think that maybe I can give my interpretation a more positive or at least different spin. But if no one knows what the truth is, then this sentence is basically telling me to just think about something however it makes me happy.
Would that be bad?
Since we will then never know what is the truth and since perception is reality, isn’t it a sensible approach to have a positive mindset and see things with an attitude of hope rather than desperation?
I think there are limits to this, which is why people talk about “toxic positivity” – desperately trying to see the positive in everything, and not allowing any “negative” feelings anymore. “Negative” meaning anything else than happiness. Of course, your therapist will tell you that there are no negative emotions but if you are really sad for the sake of your physical wellbeing, I suggest you to now tell me that all feelings are equally good.
Yet, when we are not overpowered by our emotions and with a clearer head, I think we can agree that it makes absolute sense to have a positive view and outlook on the big picture. (Healthy) Positivity allows us to try things with hopeful expectations, whereas findings everything pointless leaves us exhausted, without any motivation to act.
If nothing is the truth and everything is our interpreted reality, then everything can be seen in a different light. When we grieve, we might moon over a romanticised past or a theoretical future – we mourn for “what could have been”, even though the “truth” is that it never was and maybe never would have been.
Thinking about how we are forming our own reality can also be quite soothing. I have a tendency to see everything in my partner as a “red flag”, so that I can break up in good conscience, self-exculpating: Under these conditions of course there was no way around it, right?!
Now, the tricky dynamic here is that my fear of commitment, of catching feels and then being unable to leave a toxic dynamic, makes me search for and find red flags everywhere, so that I will never reach any closer connection with anyone.
If a red flag is nothing but our very individual interpretation, most likely motivated by fear, we can as well try to take a different stance and see things from a different perspective. Of course, this can be very hard when we are afraid, because the red flag in that case is of course not so much an unfortunate realization – even though this is of course what we are telling ourselves and others – but a rather subconscious yet intentional “excuse” for ourselves why we need to return to our safe space. Safe meaning being alone and seemingly independent.
Being more aware of the fact (ah wait, didn’t we say there are no facts) that we are forming out own reality can also help us to be less with others in our mind and more with ourselves. I do not mean that we should be egoistic and self-centred!
Have you heard the saying “comparison is the thief of joy”?
This is what I mean with “focus more on yourself” – let’s not constantly compare ourselves with others. Because each of us is the only one who can decide for ourselves that we are good enough, that our situation is good enough – or we tell ourselves that it’s never good enough, that it could be like this and that, and never be happy, looking at what others have, how others do it. But the idea, that “the other” would be better, is in our mind. It’s not the truth. It is the reality that we are forming ourselves.
In one of my recent Headspace meditations, teacher Eve started with a short talk about living in “a world of duality” – something I found very fitting for this post:
As humans we live in a world of duality, of this and that. And so we inevitably fall into comparison, whether it’s comparing things with other people, whether it’s comparing our past to our present, or how we might imagine our future to be.
So we are always caught in this situation where we might think that things are better or easier at another time or another place or perhaps with another person. And because of that, the mind tends to get easily distracted. We find ourselves always looking to another place, another time.
With meditation, we learn to let go of that duality, instead, being comfortable and at ease just in this moment, right now.Eve from Headspace.com in her meditation about “A World of Duality”
Of course, my critical mind is then immediately thinking: How much can we tell ourselves that everything is fine, when everyone already tells us that we are delusional?
I recently broke my favourite cup – I accidentally pushed it over the edge of the desk and it burst into hundreds of pieces – unfixable.
So, what now? Tell myself, that the cup is still fixable with just enough effort? That it wasn’t that good in first place (something I tend to do after breakups, to make it hurt less…)? That I’ll find an even better one? Or just do nothing and believe that it didn’t break? Just how much of mental gymnastics are we willing to perform to feel better? When does it become delusional?
For me, the song 安和橋 (Anhe Bridge) performed by 宋冬野 (Dongye Song) expresses this feeling very well. After I had known and liked the artist for a while, I recently found his album in one of the local record stores and I’m so impressed by each song. Even though I’m not used to hear Mainland Chinese dialects, it somehow adds depth and a richer sound here.
The lyrics are about coming to terms with the passing of time and the inevitable moments when we need to say goodbye and let go. We might hesitate. We might fear that we’ll regret the decision and hence cling to something like the unfixable pieces of a broken cup, living in the memories of how it was when it still stood there in full beauty. Until we find the courage to consciously be present one last time to say goodbye.
I tried to translate it somewhat closely to the original while also making clear the meaning and my understanding in English:
I know, those summers
Will not come back, just like you
I won’t have any expectations for anyone
I know, in this world
There are just too many regrets
So, once more “hello”
And then goodbye.Lyrics of 宋冬野 (Dongye Song) – 安和橋 (Anhe Bridge); translation by me
Of course, if there is no ultimate truth, or if we will never find it, there is also not really defined threshold for when we are delusional. In our own reality we are not. This vagueness is very scary for me. No rationality, no facts and figures. No guideline to base our decision on. No ultimate truth. What if I’m already in a toxic dynamic and just don’t know it? But can it even be toxic if we perceive it as being fine?
I see myself trying to solve questions with my head when they can only be resolved by the heart. I browse internet forums for answers, read other people’s advice. But at the end of the day, it is our own reality. Look less at others. Stay more with yourself. This is what my motto for last year was about:
Breath. Feel. Empathize. Be present.
I talked to my life coach about this, and he said: There is a difference between attachment capabilities and relationship capabilities. The latter is that we are scrutinizing our own contribution to a conflict and are willing to improve. The former on the other hand is an emotional connection that we can lose as we develop in different directions over time. Without an emotional connection, we might want to think about leaving a romantic relationship. Even though of course there might still be situations where people worry about “what others might think about us” then.
This is also where authenticity comes into the mix. People praise “authenticity”, they go to great lengths to be perceived as authentic. What does this mean? Wouldn’t it mean that when we stay more with ourselves instead of looking at the other person, try to figure out less what the other person might want to hear, and instead just say what in our own reality is right, that we are then more authentic? Is authenticity being true to ourselves?
A while ago I listened to a podcast about authenticity, produced by German radio “SWR2”. Below is an excerpt, translated into English:
Authenticity is something that can only be attributed to us by others and, ironically, it shows itself in extraordinary situations when you show emotions and don’t seem to pretend. It’s not that someone “is” authentic, but it is something attributed to us as an effect of social relationships.
I have to have moments when I allow myself to be unsettled, in which I feel and perceive negative things. Maybe then I’m not quite so confident for a while, but then I process this negative experience, put it into perspective and learn from it.
Someone who is always cool and composed does actually not perceive faults in himself and hence the self remains weak. Such a person is then strong in self-assertion, but if you don’t allow any negative experiences, you can’t grow from them either.
Conversely, it can be that one is too little in the self. This can happen when circumstances are very bad, or when I have trouble regulating negative feelings. Then I get stuck and don’t manage to draw positive things from it and to learn from it. I then have a chronically inhibited self, so to speak.
If you want to radiate authenticity, you must not stop trying to explore your own self again and again.
However, those who show themselves can also encounter rejection because, for example, one can satisfy one’s power motive and act aggressively against others. Where does authenticity have its limits, where does egoism begin? Shouldn’t egoism be part of authenticity? It’s not just about expressing motives or satisfying them at all costs and thereby being authentic, but it can sometimes mean that I may have to put my own motivational needs aside if I realize that it doesn’t fit in a situation.
That too can be authentic: What do I need, what do I want, and what does my environment want and what is needed there. Authenticity goes beyond one’s own self-awareness. A danger of authenticity is that you are only in your own film, instead you have to open your eyes and ears, interact with the others, here and now.Podcast on SWR2, episode “Authentizität – Wie echt kann das Ich sein?” as part of “SWR2 Wissen”, translation by me
I’m grateful for having people who help me to be less driven by fear, to connect more with my authentic self instead of trying to please everyone else and I’m grateful for gradually learning how to reinterpret my own reality so that I can live in it peacefully and filled with love.