Let’s play a game of telephone. The oldest person in the group will start with a phrase, and it’s going to be quietly passed around the circle — wait.
The person next to me says that it isn’t the oldest, but the tallest person in the group that goes first, which isn’t true. It’s definitely the oldest. How do I know? Well, because that’s how I learned it in fourth grade. Now the person next to me is insisting that they learned it in fourth grade, too, and they’re positive it’s the tallest person who goes first.
So who’s right?
We’re both telling the truth. Why would we lie about how we learned to start a game of telephone? But even though we’re saying truths, that doesn’t mean our truths are fact.
How can that be? How can truth, the embodiment of candor, be false?
Truth is and isn’t fact. The best way to see truth is as a rainbow of grays. Truth is fact that’s corrupted by perspective and by the magnitude of that fact. It’s almost never universal. All truths come from fact, but we can never tell how much. The funny thing about truth is that if I tell you a contested truth, I’m not necessarily lying.
I can tell you another person’s truth and you may not believe it. You can say, “I have all the facts, and with my accurate facts, you’re wrong.” All your facts are probably right, but you probably don’t have all the facts. You could still be right, but that doesn’t mean the other person is lying, nor does it mean that their facts are inaccurate.
So where does truth go wrong?
It all comes down to perspective. Our perspectives are the result of both minuscule and enormous events in our lives. Even the tiniest interaction can change your ship’s course. How many moments have built the perspective you hold today? I would guess that for the typical college student it’s past trillions.
Our perspectives shape our truths. You and I could read the same book and the same notes from the author, but come to different conclusions about what the book’s most important message is — all because of our different experiences. Because no one else has lived your exact life, no one will ever share your exact perspective.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to understand other perspectives. In fact, the only way to get to some version of a whole truth is by piecing together other points of view.
Trying to deduce any truth is a lot like journalism. If you wanted to report on a fire that happened downtown, you wouldn’t talk to just one person. You’d consult multiple sources, combining and comparing their stories to get as close as possible to the truth of what happened.
So what’s the point of all this? That truth is a total illusion? That every textbook you’ve ever bought has been a waste of money? No. Just be more aware of why people speak their truth with such confidence, when you’re holding a completely different deck of cards.
Ignorance and closed-mindedness are the first blockades to truth. Refusing to consider that we all may be right, in our own ways, is limiting truth.
Accept that you’ll often have to work to piece together the truth. Be open to other’s truths and get over the need to always be right. Learn the power of perspective, and challenge what you think you know.
Truth is a game of telephone. Start from there.