Can People Have Different Truths?
The idea of people having different truths is something that’s been swirling around my mind for a while now. After writing my post on whether we should ask permission when writing about others, I heard the brilliant ‘Big Magic’ podcast by one of my favourite authors Liz Gilbert. In it she discusses how, as a writer, we can have our own truths about situations which may differ from how others see it.
This became very relevant to my life recently, when I realised I situation that I had been in was viewed very differently from the other side. It was so confusing to me, as I struggled over who was right. Was I wrong to feel hurt the way I did when someone else felt that they hadn’t done anything wrong?
It was at this point the notion of different truths sailed through my mind. As writers we are often presenting our take on a story and, whilst we often try not to give all the details or names, we are displaying our opinions on something to the internet, and thus the world. This means that the person concerned may read it and, if they recognise it’s about them, may disagree with your view on the matter.
So what does it mean to have different truths about something?
Well I’ll give you an example. As a child I was bullied, and it was very destructive to my confidence and sense of well being. Many years later I bumped into this girl who tormented me and she was incredibly friendly, inquiring how I was in the manner of any old school friend. My mind was racing: ‘Why does she feel like she can be like this? Does she not know what she did to me?’. I remember the pain I went through, sobbing before school every morning and begging to be allowed to stay at home. After musing on the subject with loved ones, I arrived upon a startling realisation. It is possible for her to have not been aware of being a bully, whilst also possible for me to be bullied. Perhaps for her how she treated me was inconsequential, whereas for me it was life and confidence altering.
What does this mean?
Her not being aware, or not thinking of herself with the label of bully, does not invalidate my experiences. But equally my take on the matter doesn’t invalidate hers. I think as humans we like to categorise events neatly. One person wronged another so let’s slap labels on them and then they know how to feel. The problem with this is that it doesn’t change the behaviour, or stop the events from happening again. It is only when we look at something from two perspectives and grant those involved the autonomy of their own experiences that we can identify what went wrong and attempt to solve the problem.
I have other examples in mind that are too personal to share on the vast expanse of the web, but I hope you see my point. So often when people are hurt we do not look to examine what is causing those behaviours. Nothing will make what a wrong-doer did okay, and all efforts must be taken to stop damaging behaviour, but I firmly believe that an attempt at understanding is the best way forward.