Thirsty for truth

I listened to Shane Perrish’s interview with television personality and wife to Canada’s Prime Minister Sophie Grégoire Trudeau today (you can listen to it here); their discussion on truth caught my attention.

Trudeau said —

I think we live in an era where it’s time to actually speak our truth, and break open and open our hearts and say, “How do you feel? Tell me the truth. Let’s stop putting our heads into the sand, and let’s talk about the real stuff…People are thirsty for authenticity, truth, connection, intimacy.”

There's a lot to unpack here, but I want to focus on “truth” first since I’ve been meditating on the concept for the past couple of days.

A popular claim is that we’ve arrived in a “post-truth” era when alternative facts replace actual facts, and feelings have more weight than evidence, and I find this claim in itself embodies the fallacy “post-truth” since it makes the whole concept sound like something humans haven’t seen before.

If we look back throughout history, the rich and the powerful have always had the interests and means for getting the mass to think what they want. We now blame Facebook, Trump, or the search algorithms for permeating lies and exacerbating biases, but for hundreds of years, much of what passed for “news” and “facts” in human society were stories about miracles, angels and demons. Because we want to believe in them; story-telling unites us as humans, and stories have given people meanings to live and die.

What has changed then? Trudeau called for speaking our truth as people are thirsty for them. Why are we thirsty? How do we even find the truth and know what is true? And humans are by nature story-telling, fiction-believing animals, so are it really the truth that people are craving for?

I don’t actually think people are thirsty for truth — as truth might not be the most attractive and interesting, and it’s sometimes impossible to arrive at an absolute truth, as our perception of the world is merely our perceptions…but I’m not going into a philosophical ramble.

The biggest threat of truth aren’t the lies since those are a bit easier to identify (can use Scott Bedley’s framework for 5th graders). The biggest threats are speculations from supposedly credible experts. Everyone can voice their opinions more easily now, and more people know how to leverage their social capital well. Those with artificial authority can advocate for ideas by applying analogies and frameworks that oversimplify a very complex and nuanced system.

Bold statement + analogy — but is this true?

Instead of calling for more truth, I’d argue it might be more effective and actionable to advocate for sharing honestly one’s thought process. Being honest means becoming more vulnerable, when sharing with a broader audience increases the likelihood that our perceptions being challenged.Instead of telling me the truth, I’m a lot more curious about “how did you arrive at that conclusion?” I see the opportunities to be proven wrong to be one of the most valuable attributes of the Internet. Our perceptions can be updated more quickly with easily accessible information, thereby we’re now in a better position to subvert our biases.

By the end of the day, as much as truth matters, what matters more is what to do with the truth. Understanding and processing truth is both an individual and a collective effort, and the experience will break or form a community. Some truth can be disheartening and might even be devastating when it contradicts with our existing beliefs. We can choose not to accept it by living comfortably in an echo chamber or choose the harder path by openly exposed to challenge. And we can make this path less hard by being more understanding, nice, and supportive.