Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The truth is complex

By Hannah Grossman

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How many fights have you been in because you thought you were right? How many wars have been fought over the pursuit of one’s definition of truth?

It’s ridiculous. Fluid, subjective and hidden within each person, truth is more complex than it seems. It must be sought after by recognizing that you cannot be the only one who’s right.

Truth is hardly graspable between individuals and between groups. On campus we see student organizations revving up for months of promoting their “truthful” agendas. Throughout the year we hear speakers and attend protests against their lectures. We sign petitions and are berated for doing so by someone else. We are repeatedly told opposing truths by various groups. But how is it that one group believes so strongly in its truth and an opposing group feels just as passionate about its own?

Generally classified as impressionable, we, young adults, often take most things as truth. But we must strive to recognize the legitimacy in everyone while being critical of what we hear.

A recent story in The Collegian cited a study conducted at the University of Michigan regarding diverse opinions within college classrooms. To restate what the study concluded: “Seven percent of campus professionals thought students were respectful of diverse perspectives when they enter college. In contrast, 63 percent of students believed that they entered college with an open mind. [And] as students got older, their optimism for provocative, varied discourse decreased.” The article suggested that the situation might differ at the University of Massachusetts, where student’s interests in diverse opinions increases when those views are raised in the classroom.

As a senior, I have taken numerous classes where the professors have advocated their agendas and refrained from mentioning other views. Seeing how many students barely raised an eyebrow and robotically transferred the teacher’s words to paper repulsed me. In classrooms where diversity is lacking it is essential for you to question the truths being told, even if they may be “right.”

Here at UMass, we are fed spoonfuls of information daily. Any topic demands being seen from more than one perspective. As you develop your opinions take in the advice of French novelist, Gustave Flaubert: “There is no truth. There is only perception.”

Don’t automatically absorb everything you hear; view it from another angle. If you walk through the Pro Life club’s abortion graveyard, also attend a lecture by VOX, the Pro-Choice club. If you attend one of the Muslim Public Affairs Council anti-Israel events, also attend an event hosted by the Student Alliance for Israel. If you sit in the audience for one of the University Democrats’ speakers, make sure you spend an evening with the College Republicans.

Each of these organizations is run by intelligent and devoted students. While some are more apt to having open dialogue, others are stalwart in solely promoting and defending their respective agendas. Question and challenge them. Take in as much as you can and form your own considerate opinions after seeing an issue from divergent viewpoints.

Just as it is arduous to break through the barriers between groups and view their comparative legitimacy, it is just as difficult to see the truth within individuals. If you are one of those who believe anyone disagreeing with you must be wrong, read ahead and see what I mean by no one being right.

Truth is abstract. Within our world of tangibility there is a tremendous amount of immateriality. And this is within each human being in the form of thought and feeling. Just as it may be arduous to believe in something incorporeal, it is also difficult to understand the intangible segments of other people. Your thoughts and feelings are only perfectly understood by you. No one will ever know this truth within you.

It is universal human inclination to express this immateriality through one, two or three means: speech, action and writing. Yet the disappointment adjoining this attempt lies in the fact that the expression is never exactly what is inside of you.

Each person has had unique experiences that taught them what certain emotions mean. Take anger for example. Because there are over six billion unique experiences that produce this word, this one word has over six billion definitions. No one will ever really know how you feel. Sorry to break it to you.

After looking at this difficult transference of truth on micro and macro scales, examine yourself and the world around you where such clashes exist. This often occurs when contradictory narratives encounter one another. I bet you a gazillion bucks that if you spin a globe under your finger and think of a conflict from the spot you land I would be a gazillionaire.

Knowledge and narrative are derived from the same Proto- Indo- European root, “gno,” to know. Contending narratives are formed by different ingestions of knowledge. Oliver Sacks affirms this on the personal level in “The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat”: “A man needs such a narrative, a continuous inner narrative, to maintain his identity, his self.” Everyone has a unique historical narrative and collectively, groups share narratives as well.

Just as two people must attempt to surmount the physical encasing of one’s immateriality and see the truth within another, groups must try and see the validity in the views of a group with a contending narrative.

Having strong opinions is important to your identity. Who would want to talk with you if you didn’t? I surely wouldn’t. But it is equally important to be open and to recognize that you probably lack the sole right answer.

Though it is fun to scream and shout and to think you are the only one who is right, life would be a lot more fun if we stepped out of the confines of our skin and groups and heeded Flaubert’s words of truth.

Hannah Grossman is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “The truth is complex”

  1. Anonymous on October 8th, 2010 12:45 pm

    It’s undeniably true that many people neglect to take different perspectives into account, and that many are closed-minded, but I’m not sure that that necessarily leads to the conclusion that everything is subjective. For example, if someone were to murder an innocent child because she was noisily playing games in the street, would you consider that objectively wrong? Or would you say that it’s all subjective, and it depends on how you look at it? Is there no “truth” of the matter at all?

    You certainly make a good point in saying that it’s important to take into account all the information available and consider other people’s points of view. However, I don’t think that the fact of disagreement has to mean that there is no “truth” at all.

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