Dec 022012


Note: I beg your indulgence for this particularly long post. I have pulled it from a book I am trying to birth. It speaks to the confusion I face as I try to discern how humanity might find its way home.
The more I learn, the more the explanations I grew up with are being called into question—like mental and emotional rugs being yanked out from under me. For every book or article that proposes one worldview, there is another equally well-documented volume to propose another, often contradictory, view. I wonder if reality exists, or which author’s reality makes the most sense. Then I wonder if sense-making is even what I should be seeking. I wonder if I know anything at all. Are there really any pillars of truth on which I can build my belief systems?
I grew up in a world composed of atoms and molecules that were substantial, measurable particles. I grew into a Universe of quantum entities that zip in and out of existence at a whim, and show up as particles or waves depending on how we observe them.
I grew up in a world of answers and certainty—a world frightened by questions and confusion. I grew into a Universe in which Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle guarantees that I can never have all the answers. Knowledge of one aspect of the Universe makes another unknowable. I have come to learn that answers have a way of ending discovery and learning—while captivating questions open possibilities.
I grew up in a world in which my existence was primarily biological. My soul had a clean slate and one shot, using this body only, to make or break its infinite future in either heaven or hell. I grew into a Universe with legitimate discussion of my soul’s journey through many lifetimes to continue its growth in wisdom and enlightenment.
I grew up in a world where nature versus nurture was the only disagreement about how I came to be the person I am. I grew into a Universe in which some, like psychologist James Hillman and author Gary Zukav, suggest that my soul chose this life, with its possibilities for both joy and pain, because of the work it had to do in order to continue its journey.
I grew up in a world in which dreams were the random firings of 100 billion neurons that yielded meaningless images to be ignored, laughed at or forgotten. I grew into a Universe in which dreams might contain information about what I am called to do, or messages with deep meaning for my life’s journey. My children used Native American dream catchers to keep bad dreams out of their lives, rather than for their original purpose—to capture the meaning of dreams for insight about one’s life and calling.
I grew up in a world that actually had an “other side.” I grew into a Universe where communication technology, especially the Internet, invites the entire world into my living room. The “other side” is now on this side.
I grew up in a world where the American way of life was the envy of all. Consumerism and our market economy were great gifts that had the potential to make every human wealthy. I grew into a Universe in which it is increasingly clear there aren’t nearly enough resources to raise the world’s living standards to those of the United States. Our wasteful ways are raising the global temperature and destroying large portions of the biosphere and may eventually bankrupt the species—financially and emotionally.
I grew up in a world in which every theory, supposition, and belief had, at its heart, the fundamental importance, intelligence and superiority of humanity. Our extraordinary talents and abilities would eventually, I was led to believe, enable us to remake this place into a safe, risk-free and stable home for humans. We either were, or soon would be, the masters of all we surveyed. I grew into a Universe in which order is inherent—order that contains chaos as an integral component—and this orderliness does not require humanity to hold it together or build on it. Not only are we not required, we may be superfluous!
I grew up in a world where lives could be planned and made predictable. It was my job as a youth to find the right career so I could support a certain and stable family. Middle age was for amassing wealth because money was the only route to a bright and happy retirement. I grew into a Universe where the wisest, most deeply spiritual people I know live lives that show up in unexpected ways because they listen carefully to what they are called to do. Their lives are unpredictable and unplanned—filled with terrifying uncertainty, profound confusion…and deep satisfaction. They live lives with unimaginable wealth—sometimes they even have money.
I am slipping from youth to old age with the fear that somewhere along the way, I was supposed to have found wisdom—answers to life’s deep and imponderable questions. What I have learned is that the answers become more elusive with age and the questions grow in number and complexity.
I am a man with significant formal education who knows that his most precious and profound learning was uncovered outside the classroom.
I am a former teacher who discovered that it was not the content, but the context of my relationships with young people that had the greatest impact. And it was they who were the teachers and I the reluctant student.
I am a former manager from a Fortune 500 company who left because there seemed little room for humanity…little time in between sales calls, business meetings and strategy sessions for us to discover who we are as human beings or what we long for. Too much of the conversation was about a bigger bottom line and higher ROI, and not enough about building a spiritual legacy for future generations. There was too much of the masculine voice of decision-making and action planning and not enough of the feminine voice calling us to meaning through relationship.
It is a deeply confusing time. I have many “answers” for the challenges I face. The irony is that most of those answers only work in the world in which I grew up. They are often useless in the Universe into which I grew. The confusion is often so intense I find myself on early-morning walks moving moment-to-moment from despair to joy, terror to ecstasy, sadness to deep gratitude, with tears running down my face to signify any and all of these emotions. I wonder what I am called to think…to believe…to do. While the world offers many “answers” to each of my myriad questions, I know that few will work. I must find my own. I know where I have been—or at least I think I do—but I am profoundly confused about where I am headed.
Oct 302011

“To know the truth is to enter with our whole persons into relations of mutuality with the entire creation—relations in which we not only know, but allow ourselves to be known.”

                    Parker J. Palmer in To Know as We Are Known
Twice each month, for more than eight years now, I have participated in a “Socrates Café”—a space where a small group explores what we have come to know and how is it we came to know what we know…our individual and collective epistemologies. During our time together, we try to remain “in the question.” Even sentences ending in periods, extend, rather than end, inquiry and exploration.
A path we have traversed many times over the eight years wends its way around the meaning of truth. In virtually any Socratic journey related to truth we inevitably come to a fork in the road. Is truth, we ask, objective or subjective? Objective truths do not depend on cultural or even individual journeys and experiences. They are universal…shared and honored by all of humanity. To follow the path upon which truth is subjective is to accept that truth can diverge in different parts of the world, in different cultures or even in different people. “Well, that’s my truth” we exclaim, as if that closing salvo wins the day in an argument.
In more than eight years, 200 sessions and 400 hours, we have yet to decide if either or both paths to truth are valid.
I have loved Parker Palmer’s work, wisdom and insights since discovering his book The Courage to Teach more than ten years ago. In an earlier, recently discovered, work To Know as We Are Known, Parker offers a fascinating insight into truth. We mislabel truth, perhaps even do it violence, he suggests, if we use either moniker: objective or subjective.
When we view truth as objective, we build a wall between it and humanity. Objective truth stands alone and apart. We lay claim to truth as an aspect of the Universe outside of us as participants in the play. It is what the scientific method has asked us to believe is the only valid truth. It is a truth outside of, and unchanged by, humanity.
When we see truth as subjective, we may keep our personal relationship to the way we see the Universe, but we separate ourselves from each other. Each of us, bearing our own truth, becomes a beacon unto our individual self. My truth is mine, yours is yours and neither need interfere or intertwine with the other. “Well, that’s my truth” draws a wall between us that may never be pierced.
So if sliding truth gently into either envelope—objective or subjective—serves to separate us, either from the world or each other, what then? It is from this place of confusion that Parker reminds us that the word truth has the same Germanic root as the word troth. As in betrothal, troth is a covenant we make with another in which we understand that our futures together shall be forever intertwined.
So truth, Parker suggests is not an objective or subjective set of facts or opinions. It is instead a covenant we make with each other, and with knowing itself, to explore the world together…opening ourselves to many perspectives…and allowing the possibility of being rendered anew each and every moment as we encounter the world with open minds and hearts. It is to “enter with our whole persons into relations of mutuality with the entire creation.”
If this troth is to be true and honest, the search for truth requires obedience and vigilance—obedience to the covenant into which we have entered and vigilance in our commitment to both know and be known. As with all of life, truth is an often messy, confusing journey…not a clean, well-manicured destination.