Saturday, December 17, 2016

Can Both Sides be Right?

Two people can see the same thing, 
disagree, and yet both be right. 
It's not logical; it's psychological.
― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

I came across this Covey quote when doing some research the other day. I wondered how we could interpret this, especially in light of the incredible division we have seen develop from the recent elections. As I said about myself a few days ago, many people are still feeling shell-shocked at the tone and style of the campaign. The ongoing debate over possible Russian hacking of the election is like living in a time-warp of irrational thoughts.

I know the old parable of the blind men and the elephant. If any individual blind man only touched one part of the elephant- trunk, leg, tusk, etc.- that person would have a very limited understanding of the word "elephant." That was always a good way of teaching that you have to get the "big picture" and to not let one small part of the picture or story determine the answer. There is such a thing as perspective, of course. Here are two examples:

First, is it a pretty woman
or an ugly woman?

Second, is it a square or a circle?

We could also dig into quantum physics and ask if light is a wave or a particle- and the answer, as in the above examples, would be "Both."

Does that mean there is no such thing as "Truth"? We have been told we are living "post truth." Can we all be equally right- and therefore- all be equally wrong? It might be easier if we all took the position that we are equally wrong, but that would certainly fly in the face of many millennia of human activity and responses.

To be honest, I really don't have an easy answer to the question. Anything that comes out will sound self-contradictory- or mystical or who knows what. Part of me insists that there are things which are truth that cannot- and should not- be put up for debate. Just because I believe the earth is physically flat doesn't mean it is.

On the other hand, I also am aware that there is such a thing as relative truth, subjectivity vs. objectivity, paradox. As a Christian, this holiday season is a vivid reminder of such an inexplicable paradox. We say that at Christmas God became a human being in the form of a tiny, helpless baby. About as easy to wrap my mind around as light being waves and particles.

What does Stephen Covey mean then? Well, he is talking about personal change, not issues of truth or falsehood. He is talking about looking at myself and changing my perspective. He is suggesting that each of us needs to be wary of hardening our perceptions into reality. Like the quote from Henry Ford- Whether you think you can, or you think you can't—you're right. That's turning perception into truth.

It could also be called ideology, or politics, or religion, or one of hundreds of ideas that we fight over as people. So
  1. I am finding it hard to keep in mind that there are pieces of my arguments that might be wrong. 
  2. I am finding it just as hard to keep in mind that there are pieces of other people's arguments that might be right. 
Which of those two statements you pick up on will depend on whether you agree or disagree with me on my politics, etc.

  • Only when we can begin to accept both these statements, can we begin to make any headway into clearing the political damage we have been doing to our democracy in the past years.
  • Only when we can begin to accept both these statements, can we begin to make headway into dealing with resentments, anger and dissatisfaction.
  • Only when we can begin to accept both these statements, can we begin to make headway into overcoming racism, religious hatred, and discrimination.

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