There is no such thing as being totally right—at least not for long.
If there is such a thing as truth, it is far too complicated to be fully understood.
The truth is complicated, and people are even more complicated. We are always going to be wrong about something, so it is important to remain as open and receptive as possible to find out what we are wrong about.
It is better to recognize that we are wrong than to assert that we are right. There are extremely rare circumstances where it’s the other way around.
I think a good conversation is almost like an arrow or a moving line, darting waveringly toward some kind of target—the target being a representation of truth. If we are going to take on a certain subjective viewpoint, we must constantly modulate that viewpoint to keep ourselves oriented toward truth. We do this by truly listening to the other person and using their perspective to reassess and adjust our own perspective.
This is where I believe postmodernism and its corresponding philosophies go astray. Postmodernist thought came into being out of the realization that there are infinite ways to interpret something, which invariably lends to the idea that there is no “right” way. No one perspective is more apt than another. In postmodernism, there is no truth, just an endless cluster of biased and subjective viewpoints.
Obviously, the postmodernists were onto something, but they are missing a crucial factor. What they are missing is the pragmatic and functional necessity for dialogue—the need to exchange ideas and expand how we perceive the world.
It is a relatively simple problem to solve. If there are infinite ways to interpret a situation, just choose the one that lessens suffering the most. Not just in the now, but over the longest stretch of time. We want to make decisions that are good for us in the present, as well as in the future, in a way that is good for our friends, family, and even society at large.
This is what I consider “truth” to be: the flowering of the highest possible benefit for ourselves and everyone around us over the longest foreseeable stretch of time.
This is obviously an incredibly difficult thing to aspire to.
To move toward the highest good imaginable, it is imperative that we understand when and how we are wrong, because we are certainly wrong about something.
Jordan B. Peterson helps calcify this point:
“In order to stay adapted to reality, not only do you have to have a viewpoint, but you have to engage in a process of modifying that viewpoint. The way that you engage in the process of modifying that viewpoint is continual minor adjustment as a consequence of paying attention.”
We simply have to pay attention—to observe ourselves in action and remain in contact with the present moment—if we are to understand the manner in which we are wrong. From here, we can begin to make those continual minor adjustments, expand our perception, and align ourselves with truth to the greatest extent possible.
We will never be wholly aligned with truth, but we certainly can aspire to be. We can be more in touch with truth than we were yesterday, and if we keep up this pattern then we can move toward living a more fulfilled and meaningful life.
It feels good to realize we are wrong, though perhaps not at first. If we proceed from the assumption that we are always correct, which many of us do unconsciously, then we shut down our peripheral vision and remove ourselves from the constant influx of new information. This is how ideology comes into being.
I understand why someone would become an ideologue, I really do. Life is so vastly complex and there is so much information floating around that we often become disturbed by the chaos of it all, so we turn to the simplest solution available. A simple solution to a problem is often the best one—unless it is too simple.
This is how tyranny ensues.
To avoid this we must stay inquisitive, honest, and responsive. We must proceed from the assumption that we are likely wrong about something, and do everything in our power to understand what it is that we are wrong about so that we can adjust it for the good of all.
This is a righteous path.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Catharine Monkman