Two Truths Can Exist at the Same Time
The other day I was watching television with my son. I honestly have no idea what we were watching, but he was amused, and I got to sit down for a second. I started to pay attention to the story line and, as usual, there is a good guy and bad guy. The bad guy did something to the good guy, and the good guy ultimately wins. My brain took that idea and ran with it, as it usually does. A few weeks prior we were driving in the car and my son saw that a cop had pulled someone over. My son made a comment that the cop pulled over the “bad guy.” I corrected him and told him that the cop pulled over a good person who did something wrong and they were getting a consequence for speeding. It got me to thinking. Why do we teach our children that things have to be one way or another? Why are there only two options? And how does this dualistic way of thinking set us up for difficult times as we grow up and engage in a very complicated, multidimensional world?
Biologically, I understand why we do this. Our brain is so complex and completes so many functions that it creates short cuts so that it doesn’t have to tend to every single idea, thought, or sensory input. It’s busy. Can you blame it? So we like to categorize things. We like things that are easy to understand, analyze, process, and store. Some things are easy to categorize. It is a cat. It is a dog. This makes the brain happy. However, we must be careful not to simplify all things by saying something is one thing or the other. For example, I am right, and you are wrong. Think about an argument you have had with a significant other when you went in thinking in these binary terms. How did that fight go? I am going to venture a guess that it was difficult, longer than it needed to be, and in the end, some kind of messy middle was established.
The fact is that two truths can exist at the same time. It doesn’t have to be an either-or situation and by allowing space for that possibility, we create so many other ways of conceptualizing a problem and finding a solution. If you approach an argument believing that someone must be wrong and someone must be right, or someone is either good or bad, then there is only one possible outcome and there won’t be any good resolution. If you approach a discussion with the intent of expressing your truth and better understanding the other person’s truth, then connection, empathy, and problem solving can ensue.
The reality is that life is too complicated to fall into the one truth only trap. Our brains allow for so many mixed emotions. We can grieve the loss of a loved one but be thankful that they are no longer in pain. We can be thankful to no longer be in a toxic relationship but miss the good days. We can recognize that our partner is doing the best they can, but still feel frustrated and let down when our needs aren’t being met. We can recognize that someone didn’t purposely do something to hurt us and still be hurt. We can grieve the loss of a child and still find joy in the children we have. There are so many examples!
Think about how helpful this could be with children. We acknowledge that they are angry and entitled to that anger but let them know that it is not ok to hit. We can acknowledge that they are angry at their sibling for not playing with them but help them to understand that their sibling also has wants and desires that will take their attention elsewhere. We can acknowledge that it’s hurtful to them if we can’t make it to the class party but explain that there was a very important meeting that you could not miss and then explain your own mixed feelings about the situation. In most of these examples, allowing for more than one truth means that there is no quick and easy fix. In most of these situations, there is no solution that makes everyone feel good. However, what does happen is that everyone feels heard. Everyone’s feelings are validated, and we introduce, or reinforce, the idea that it is possible for many truths, many emotions, to exist. And that is ok.
Think about utilizing this with a significant other: Your partner forgot to ask about an important meeting you had. You are hurt. You have been talking about this meeting for weeks. You assume that that this must mean that they never listen to you, or that you aren’t important enough to remember these moments, or that they are selfish. Instead of entering into the argument wanting your partner to admit they are wrong, try asking what happened. Let them know that this was important to you and that you are hurt. Explain your truth and then ask about theirs. You might be surprised by how they answer when they are given an opportunity to tell their truth. Instead of being defensive, you may get a more open and honest explanation. Perhaps they had their own important meeting that they haven’t been openly discussing and it did not go as well. Perhaps they truly forgot because the day got hectic and when they remembered, they became anxious about bringing it up, worried that you were angry. Your hurt remains, but now you have more information and a lot more to work with. You are hurt, your partner forgot, but also, they love you and have a lot going on. This feels like a more complicated, yet a more genuine exchange.
Allowing for more than one truth requires mindfulness and an ability to sit with discomfort. It can also be painful. We are often taught to avoid this and to stick with the easy way. But the easy way is not typically the most effective path when it comes to relationships. Embrace the messiness. Embrace the complexity. Revel in the process. Sit with the pain. And then enjoy the growth.