By Michael Storey
The events of 2017 created a new ideological warfront, which many of us had not foreseen. In listening to OHASSTA 2017 opening keynote speaker and Toronto Star reporter Susan Delacourt it became clearer what the nature of this war is. We are facing the challenge of truth. Not mistakes, nor lies versus truth but the challenging of whether or not there is even such a thing as “universal truth.”
When there is not agreement on what is real and actually happening then how do we have a meeting of minds? If facts are being challenged constantly as outlined by David Roberts who questions the relevance of the entirety of our society including our commitment to the legal process in the absence of facts, then how do we move forward together.
This has raised the question of how to contextualize “truth” so that we wrestle with our understanding and how this is complicated by the challenging lack of voice experienced by various segments of society. How do we honor communities who have been disproportionately represented: both with over representation, the diminishing of which is perceived as loss, and underrepresentation which is unjustifiable and carries with it an entrenched inequality of opportunity as well as perceivable inequality of personhood?
When this intersects with disproportionate representation of values in governance how do we expect people to react? We all want to be heard. When we aren’t heard we experience disconnection from the values espoused by those who fail to hear us. We come to believe that they are ignoring us because we know that we are present. We look to be heard by anyone who will amplify our voice.
But we delude ourselves when we wish to claim that we are all of one mind, all opinions are of equal value and that this is what democracy is. We have lost track of the “market place of the minds”. As we’ve become disparate in our culture we have clamored for protection of “our voice” promoting “people like us”. In doing so we have abandoned the responsibility to defend our views. Whether you appeal to the apologetics of the church or the academic defense of a thesis or the simple knowledge that avoiding the argument is not really winning the argument it is refusing to risk losing the argument. This separates us, divides us, rather than giving us any grounds on which to work together.
We have come to fear being seen as wrong. However, human beings make mistakes. One of the most powerful things we can do is admit our own wrongdoing. However, the admission is not enough to fix everything and that is why people are wary of such admissions. Financial responsibilities keep companies and governments from admitting their faults for fear of being seen to “cost too much”. However, this ignores the less effable elements of our business, which is relationships with one another, before, after and beyond financial terms. We lose out on amounts unknown by biasing our communities to such extent that they do not even interact.
The most well intentioned relationships are made toxic by presumption without regard for one another’s integrity as persons. This is true from the parent/child, romantic partners and friendship level through to collective interactions of teams and their supporters, companies, governments and “peoples”. This cannot be mended in any way other than the admission that it was wrong to not value the other as an equal person. And furthermore to mend our ways and move forward with one another valuing our joint journey and seeing one another’s victories as shared victories if these victories help us to share more similar experiences and diminish that which divides us.
How then do we balance the need to view others as persons and equals but not cede truth to everyone without respect to objective truth? This is the question that maddens the masses. For surely we are not proposing that all views are equal. We are not yet hearing suggestions that all laws be done away with because all views are equal including all hither to illegal ones. We are therefore admitting that there are indeed “some truths”.
What we need then is a new articulation of how to find this truth. We need guiding principles that we can agree upon for how we negotiate views we find disagreeable without dismissing them out of hand. Traditionally, this has been the role of logic. We call such principles “reasons” for good reason. But we have had “reasons” for many bad decisions. Perhaps it is time to include “feeling” with a greater respect than we’ve had for some time. Perhaps we need a humility of the whole: the whole person, community and broader society. Perhaps.
I don’t know if there is truly a clear “universal truth”. But I suppose we ought to hear a few other perspectives about that.
Michael Storey is an increasingly humbled teacher in Richmond Hill who thanks the people around him for the longsuffering that they have shown him when he didn’t properly reciprocate. If you have something to say, “I’m listening.”