by: Heather Fawn ((Header art is by the astonishingly talented artist and graphic designer, Igor Morski.))
Truth is relative, not because facts aren’t real, but because sometimes facts don’t matter….
Sometimes, when I’m staring into the deep, dark abyss of a conflict, I realize how easily I can tune into the other person’s perception. As easily as blinking, I can often switch perspectives. It is from this ability that I have decided on an ultimate truth: we’re all right, about everything, all the time. No matter how factually wrong, no matter how ill-informed, no matter how quietly or loudly we whisper, scream, announce, report, confront, explain, refute, or allow silence to work into the space between each person…we’re all, in our own glorified indignance, one hundred percent right.
Growing up, this was a huge problem. I saw myself, for example, from the viewpoint of racist peers, my manipulative parents, or selfish partners. I allowed almost anyone’s thoughts to infiltrate my being and twist and shape reality. It was so effortless at times that I barely felt the shift. At other times, it was a huge burden to constantly be racing to keep up with the pace of friends or boyfriends whose rebellious, or soft, or unhealthy, or dangerous, or beautiful ideas filled me with dissonance. Although this open-mindedness allowed me to outgrow some stifling religious practices, reframe outmoded ideas, learn to protect myself from my parents, and find my own path in life, it has also caused a lot of confusion. The ability to not only see anyone’s perspective as having validity, but to also be open enough to take a moment to look through that person’s eyes (so to speak), has made molding my own identity tenuous.
Perhaps, as with other aspects of my personality, how I was raised, which was comprised in part of lies and secrets (plus the implicit pressure to accommodate whatever ridiculous charade my parents were performing), has allowed me to entertain everyone else’s ideas as valid. As I entered counseling and was able to see the way I was parented from a clinical perspective, it was a literal awakening experience. I instantly saw the truth that I had always tried to deny, though I could still remember what I used to think and feel. Before this, as a teenager, I had the experience of immersing myself fully in Christianity only to be crushed by the realization that nearly all of the “pious” adults around me were selfish, manipulative, bigoted, and close-minded. When I realized that I could never live comfortably with a good ninety percent of what I was being taught, I abandoned Christianity and my perspective quickly changed. Although I could still see the way my Christian friends viewed the world, I no longer had any desire to live that life. When I started college, I learned more, and when I studied abroad, I learned that the world had a myriad of viewpoints that I could tap into with the simple act of a conversation.
“Knowledge is power” is a very inspiring proverb. I would not be able to live a comfortable, happy, peaceful life without the continuous construction I have had on my knowledge base. My education has opened doors all over the world. I grew up in a country that speaks a language that can connect people from completely different walks of life, and is in high-demand across the majority of the countries I’d ever want to live and work in. At one point in my life, I spent a year doing personal research on abusive personalities and healing from a dysfunctional childhood, which gave me insight into people with difficult and even dangerous ways of treating others.
But I have had lots of conflict. I’ve attracted some really fucked up people into my life, at different points and times. I’ve had some intense confrontations, talked to people who either have no regard for others or only value people because of what they can give, and still others who judge people’s worth based on their income/looks/status. At one time or another I’ve known xenophobes, homophobes, sexists, Red Pill evangelists, pedophiles, murderers, fundamentalists, drug dealers, and racists. I’ve met people who carry guns without the proper permits, people who do drugs in front of small children, people who bribe their employees with drugs or threaten them with violence, people who use their mental illness as an excuse to be shitty to others (rather than working on their issues), people who drive drunk every time they go out, people who never have protected sex no matter how many partners they have at a given time, and people who threaten violence for the slightest transgressions. And the one thing that every single one of these people have in common is that, in their realities, they are right.
To me, they are a complex web of assholes, but to them, they are living the way life’s meant to be lived. Maybe they question it every once in a while, but the people who have made a habit or a lifetime of the same choices have firm belief systems set in place. Nothing anyone can say, no matter how logical or impassioned, no matter how reasonable or neutral or manipulative, no matter how guilt-inducing or shaming, will change somebody’s mind on an issue as strongly felt, for example, as the idea that, “people do what I want when I threaten them” or, “I like making people feel bad about it and then denying it in a way that makes them look like the bad guy when they bring it up.” A racist has other racists to confide in, and they gather their evidence to fuel their hatred. A truther gun nut has their confirmation bias websites, and they gather the evidence to support their paranoia and their sense of superiority. A selfish person has their feelings and their stubbornness, and they cling to these things regardless of the consequences. Each person, “good” or “bad,” has a belief system that works for them, and, more or less, gives them what they expect (if not what they want).
I have learned this much: a lot of the time, it doesn’t matter what I know. Many times, the other person is right, no matter how “wrong” they are. Truth is relative, not because facts aren’t real, but because sometimes facts don’t matter. Arguing with someone who has an emotional investment in their worldview is completely pointless. Most people aren’t willing to budge on any issue or idea that they feel is important. Each person has their idea of an ultimate truth, and so many times I have discovered, “The Truth” is different. Even science amends and changes “facts.” It’s a precarious world full of ‘maybes’ and ‘ifs’ that we live in. So when politicians say that global warming isn’t real, people lap it up. While most people in America were ecstatic to hear that SCOTUS legalized gay marriage, bigots the world over lamented that their religious ideals and feelings were being discounted and trampled upon by yet another country. Some people are colorblind and literally see color differently than others, so their experience of “red,” for example, is completely different than other people’s experience of “red.” If someone can’t read English, this entire essay is completely without meaning, no matter how many words I choose to use or omit. It’s all relative, and that’s, honestly, fucking weird.
So these days, when I see all of the political strife, all of the passionate arguments about just about any subject, I feel a bit like there is very little room for groundbreaking insight without doing a lot of digging. This is because everyone already decided what they think. Vegetarians aren’t interested in hearing about how some doctors believe they should get B12 vitamins from grass-fed beef. Islamic extremists don’t care about humans as individuals and have devoted their very lives to their “cause.” People believe what they want to believe. And this much is certain: there may be people who are a whole lot more open-minded than me, but there are many who are less. Everyone is indoctrinated with their own dose of reality. When I share my opinion, I am essentially always doing two things: preaching to a choir, or alienating people.
Every day, I read a myriad of opinions online, many of which I hope to share because it makes me feel better about life and keeps my blood pressure in a healthy range. I also know that I could read just about any other opinion and see its validity – basically because it’s an idea that exists in the world. And I don’t know if this “truth” is real, but it feels real to me. It is sometimes dangerous to inhabit any place where other people’s mindsets are too different from your own. It is better to go where you are understood than to constantly wade into conflict. I also believe that some people can never see the damage they do because their viewpoint is altered by fear, greed, or mental illness.
Even so, people do what they feel is right. I hope that, mostly, this is with an altruistic intent, an open heart, and an empathetic mindset.
As a writer, this is my current issue: when truth is flexible and my ideas are only valid to some, how important is my voice? Usually my writer’s block eases with time, but I have a hard time getting past this idea these days: when everyone’s voice simultaneously means something and means nothing, mine is just a part of the chorus.