When we look at people, we tend not to see them, but rather our projection of who they are, who we think they are, what we think they’re thinking, etc. Between us and them stands a thick layer of judgments based on our own past experiences. What if we were able to see through all of that nothingness to the people themselves? I am telling you, we would be blown away.
Postmodernism has made significant contributions to our understanding of the world. It has shown that perspective matters. We always see things from a particular vantage point, which includes our culture, family, language, etc. It has essentially refuted the Enlightenment ideal of purely objective truth, showing it to be a false construction. We are always fundamentally rooted in our perspective. We can’t not be. We are a very part of the reality we are observing. Sometimes this insight is amplified into a pure relativism, in which the concept of truth itself becomes useless. There is only “your truth” and “my truth,” if we are to speak of truth at all. Such language can be useful, because of course you will have access to truth that I don’t have access to, but, taken as an absolute, it nullifies the concept of truth itself. Any desire that you might feel to pursue or even find the truth? You may as well forget about it, because truth is a fantasy, according to this view.
Thankfully, neither pure relativism nor the belief in pure objectivity hold any water. They are both outgrowths of a way of thinking that idealizes separation (a false belief!). In the first case, pure relativism adopts the Enlightenment definition of truth (“seeing from no place”) and then points to the Postmodern insight that we are embedded in what we’re looking at. Therefore, we are to lament that truth is impossible. And pure objectivity is doomed, thanks to the same insight. But the idea of truth that is being refuted is a very strange one. If anything, we should celebrate its demise, rather than lament it. It comes from a desire, essentially, to see a world that doesn’t include ourselves. It illustrates the self-destructive tendencies of the mind. Dystopian sci-fi stories may scare us about the prospect of machines taking over someday. But we need look no further than our own minds to see that a far more sinister thing is already happening. We are those machines.
Yet we are more than machines. We are more than our minds. Minds are good at analysis, breaking things down into their separate parts, naming them, and making distinctions. They are very useful. Without my mind, I would not be able to write this sentence. But as much as our minds don’t like the idea, they are not the basis for our being. They don’t have the final say. When our minds become our servants, rather than our masters, we can begin to see a way out of the “What is truth?” quagmire.
A mind in proper perspective knows that it is only a tool, a part of me, not all of me. And it can be willing to let go of the need to “be on top” and see things from that place of separation that it so idolizes. These would be true thoughts, true judgments. These would be thoughts that lead toward health and peace and greater insight, because they would be self-subordinating thoughts. Thoughts that acknowledge their own self-construction. Thoughts that acknowledge their own limitations. A humbled mind, a mind that recognizes that it does not really know, is in the best position to receive insights into truth. A humbled mind is a mind that has oriented itself toward truth. In contrast, a proud mind is oriented toward confusion; it will never get what it wants, whether it idealizes objectivity or laments its impossibility.
So the good news is that truth is real, and it is possible. The “bad news,” to our habitual way of thinking anyway, is that the mind can’t have the final say. To be given access to truth, it must relinquish its desire to be the arbiter of truth.
It’s hard to blame the mind for doing what it does. Who really wants to be “blown away”? Our minds protect us from falling apart. It’s for our own good that they filter what we see. But when the mind starts to recognize its role as a filter, it can begin to, little by little, let go of the controls it places on our perception, allowing more light to come in. Little by little, we can begin to let go of our habitual judgments. We can begin to actually see each other.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”