So. . . What’s your story?

Speak your truth . . . or as much of it as you want to share

The invocation from my mentor and long-time friend as he would convene the opening evening of personal growth group gatherings. Usually multi-day ‘intensives’ that would see a dozen or so of us collect in various venues over the years, attending as our time and needs would allow and dictate. Some vets, some ‘newbies’. All with our stories in search of a forum to share and process. Less looking for answers — which we trusted and knew would emerge — more, the opportunity to say aloud and clarify an evolving narrative.

Truth has become something of an obsession in recent times. All the more so as its antitheses have gained more and more traction. Call them what you will — lies, ‘alternate facts’, fake news, fictions, conspiracy ‘theories’ — there has been a relentless erosion of, an assault on. . . truth. Regan’s imperative, trust but verify, continues to be figural. The challenge increasingly is how and where?

I suppose, naively, I’ve tended to think of truth as an absolute. Something is either true. . . or it isn’t. Right . . . or wrong. A little reflection, of course, puts pay to that fantasy in short order. What I have more difficulty acknowledging is that this certainty may not exist — anywhere. If we could just drill down, discard the BS, there it would be. Constant, unchanging. . . absolute. Some magical place where two plus two will always equal four. The point of reference that allows one to measure just how far one has ventured off course; offering the option of a correction, a moral reset button.

My disabuse has been a gradual process. The past half decade, needless to say, has provided a turbo boost. Prevarication has first become ‘main stream’, then legitimized; now, increasingly embraced as, well, truth. Lying is no longer the purview of spies, psychopaths, internet trolls, and politicians.

As a psychologist, I’ve occupied a space that fundamentally is built on ‘evidence’ — the practice of testing an approach, ultimately a theory that is predicated on the reliable, the replicable until it wears the mantle of ‘fact’ — truth, as it were. Re-run the same, controlled experiment a sufficient number of times, obtain the same result and, presto, we have truth. Or at least as close as a 95% confidence interval will statistically support.

Where things have begun to wobble is that ‘evidence-based’ has increasingly become a tag line, a ‘good housekeeping seal’ that gets stamped on all manner of opinion and perspective; effectively short-cutting, short circuiting the hard fought for rigour of my sacred scientific method. One now believes what one wants to believe, seeks out ‘support’ for a position, and then propagates . . . and propagates all the way to a belief.

Back to John and Ron (that would be said mentor and Number 40). Is it possible that we are needing to establish a different point of reference. Perhaps it’s time to abandon the absolute and reaffirm the relative. We may just have passed a point of no return, crossed a threshold where no amount of fact, theory testing, indeed science will return us to the sacred sum of 4. Just possibly this ‘post-truth’ Rosetta Stone is our personal narrative.

As straight forward, self-evident. and singular as one’s own story may seem to be, I’ve come to understand that, like our shape-shifting truth, there are versions — even within the individual. Equally, another statement of the obvious is that these stories change, morph, evolve.

Screen Shot 2022-02-01 at 1.12.22 PMIn his teachings and writings, John drew on many sources. He was fond of the image of a ‘community of selves’, acknowledging that we are all ‘multiples’, housing sometimes competing, at times conflicting agendas. We behave, to our peril, by failing to give voice, consideration to these ‘opinions’, preferences. A decision then becomes a matter of conversation, dialogue. One’s ‘personal truth’ is more about discussion, alternate perspective taking; less about convincing, arbitrariness, controlling, dominating, rationalizing. All within the ‘community self’, within the individual.

Such conversations almost always require space, room to air things out; clarity and courage, to hear what the ‘other selves’ have to say; and finally, non-judgmental witnessing. A long time devotee of Taoist wisdom, John’s view was that, with these conditions in play, ‘the way’ (Tao) will emerge.

Perhaps the work then is more about asking different questions. Not ‘is this the truth?’ More ‘is this my truth?’ ‘Who am I now?’ As outside observers, our role then becomes one of honouring this process, welcoming the appearance of a ‘new truth’ — be it ours . . . or no. The individual bears the responsibility of ensuring that this ‘new narrative’ is authentic, genuine. without malice or agenda.