Dear Future You,
How often have you and another person heard the same information but come to completely contradictory conclusions about what that information means?
As humans, we seem to be hardwired to have differing conceptions of the truth and of reality. This is understandable since we all experience and perceive the world around us in different ways. If we wish to find common ground with others, we will have to learn how to bridge this gap.
A fundamental problem of this gap in perceived truth is that it erodes trust between people. We ask ourselves, “How can they possibly look at this evidence and come to such beliefs?” We then begin to form beliefs about “those people” — they are crazy, evil, ignorant, lying to themselves — none of which are really true. This erosion of trust makes it even harder for the differing parties to communicate with each other, diminishing the opportunities to find common ground.
What if it could be different? What would it take to reverse this downward spiral of disagreement distrust? What could we say or do differently?
Perhaps we could begin by adjusting our own beliefs about what truth is, accepting that a person’s sense of what is true will be relative to their experiences. That is not to say it is more or less true than anyone else’s idea of truth — just based on a different set of foundational beliefs and understandings. Regardless, perhaps we could come to accept that another person’s truth is as real and visceral to them as our truths are to us.
Once we take this step to empathize with the other person, perhaps we can then begin to see how their truth is formed by real experiences in their lives (and not by evilness, badness, insanity, stupidity, etc.). Perhaps we can appreciate that their truth is a rational conclusion of the summation of these experiences.
Finally, even if we don’t like the conclusions they’ve come to, even if we disagree with them or they make us uncomfortable, perhaps we can bridge the gap first by acknowledging the truth of their experiences that we’ve just made an effort to understand. Perhaps we first build trust with others by digging below the level of conclusions, and finding agreement and compassion for the pain of their experiences which have formed those conclusions. That may take the form of saying things like, “Yes, I can see why that experience is deeply frustrating. I would feel the same way.”
Beneath the bluster of our charged rhetoric lies a very common and understandable set of human experiences with which anyone who has ever lived can sympathize. If we can find that place, we can begin to form genuine connection and shared understanding.