The Truth Doesn't Hurt
After my heart surgery, I felt broken. My body had failed me despite my best efforts. I was just not strong enough before surgery and throughout the first forty years of my life to counter the need for heart surgery and I just wouldn’t be strong enough after to heal from it and be whole again. I wasn’t going to be a boot camp warrior. I wasn’t going to run again. My heart and my body were broken and I needed to make the necessary adjustments. That is what I believed to be true.
But the truth of the matter was something entirely different. The truth was that I had heart surgery, but my body was not broken. My body was healing and so would I, enough to boot camp and run and jump again. The truth was that while sneezing hurt and my body ached, I was fine. The truth was something I couldn’t see from the inside because I had already made decisions about who I was and what I could do based on my own limited set of beliefs and circumstances. It took someone outside of my view to show me the critical distinction between what is true and the truth, and that what I believed to be true was holding me back. Once I was able to see just the facts - the truth found within my situation - life looked a whole lot different.
We each determine for ourselves what we believe to be true. True is just that - what we believe. True is what we know and hold dear. True is how we see the world and the situation before us. Through the unique lenses of our own glasses of perspective, one day and one experience at a time, we decide what is true. For me, growing up in a middle class suburban household, I just knew it to be completely true that living in the suburbs was far superior to living in the city. We had more trees. We had better schools. We had bigger houses. True, true, true. Doesn’t what we believe to be true sound an awful lot like a strongly held opinion or belief? That’s because it is. What we consider true is really just “true for us” or “true based on our experiences”. It is not universally agreed upon to be true for everyone or everything, though much of what we think of as true does indeed align with what many others see as true. I’m sure my neighbors in the burbs believe it is truly better than the city, too. That is what we all collectively believe to be true, but it doesn’t make it the truth.
So if what is true is simply a clearly defined and long-held opinion or belief, it follows that it is not always actually the truth. The truth is indisputable. The truth is fact, like a scientific fact - like the city of San Francisco sits at 37.733795 and -122.446747 degrees longitude and latitude respectively. The truth is what observably occurred, like the tree falling over in the backyard, or the cat running across the street. The truth can be argued, but only by those who are willing to stand nearly alone on the other side of the argument. The truth can be fact-checked or verified. The truth doesn’t change based on circumstance or feeling. And truth is not hung up in the “whys” of a situation. It is what it is and what it will always be - the truth.
Our beliefs about what is true can and do hold us back. It is not our fault. We only have the option to see the world through our own eyes. But we can work to look outside of ourselves, if only for a moment, to seek the actual truth that is always there for us to acknowledge and work to understand. Once we are dealing with the truth, we are much more likely to find solutions to problems unclouded by emotions or opinion. Indulge me for a moment with a “real world” example:
I believe that my spouse is taking me for granted by not doing the dishes last night. I always do the dishes. He never does them because he knows that I’ll do them. Obviously, I care about a clean kitchen more than he does. He doesn’t mind leaving housework up to me. He never does his fair share of the housework and these dirty dishes are the proof.
I have created a whole narrative around his one action - not doing the dishes tonight - that I know to be true. And when I get upset or argue with him, I will be using that information to argue my case.
But what is the truth? The truth is that he didn’t do the dishes last night. That’s it. That is the one factual occurrence. And while I do the dishes a whole lot, it is not true that he never does them. Nor is it a true statement to assume that my desire for a clean kitchen is his excuse for not doing the dishes (I don’t know what his reasons are for not doing them tonight). This might be what I have come to believe but it is not THE TRUTH. The truth is only what has actually happened and what is real and what no one could argue against. He didn’t do the dishes. All we have to do is look with our eyes. Everyone can agree - he did not do the dishes. And while lots of people, especially my dearest girlfriends, might take my side when detailing the other “facts” of the problem, they are what we believe to be true, not THE TRUTH.
So now arguing with him about this seems a little misguided given how much of what I’m upset about is standing on a shaky foundation. What if I just confront him about the truth - dishes not being done on Tuesday - and we go from there? What a difference it makes when we maintain our commitment to only traffic in truth.
Sometimes we don’t want to see the truth. Sometimes we just don’t know where to look. But we can work to separate what is true from what is actually the truth, weeding through our feelings and biases to keep them distinct from the facts before us. Because taking what is true for us into the world as truth can be problematic. It allows us to believe that our viewpoint is right, or the only valid one. And it blinds us to the perspectives of others. It prevents us from seeing that the world and the way it works could be different. Finding and accepting the truth doesn’t hurt at all and really does set us free.
We get to believe whatever we want. We are entitled to hold dear what we believe is true. But we should never forget that the truth may still be out there, waiting for us to discover, and the discovery of that truth might be the better path forward.
And here’s the truth - I had heart surgery and learned this lesson so you wouldn’t have to.