The Haunting Truth of A Lie

I think we all know this. When we are less than honest we are more than likely to be haunted by it. But there is so much discussion today about lying, so many lies fill the headlines, we might stop looking at how our own lies affect us.

 

When we tell a lie, we know the truth. If we say something we think is true and it’s not, we’re just wrong or misinformed, not lying. When we lie, we split ourselves in two—the truth we did not speak and the lie we did. One we let out in public, one we keep hidden in a back room.

 

Sometimes, we feel there is a good reason for lying. We think it might serve the greater good or save someone from being hurt. We feel the person we’re talking with is not ready for the truth. 

 

Sometimes, we’re the one not ready for the truth. We lie because it’s convenient or easier for us to do so. It gets us something we want or it protects our image of ourselves.

 

But if we think a lie serves our self-image, than our view of ourselves becomes haunted….

 

This blog was published by the Good Men Project. To read the whole piece, click on this link.

Stand Up Against the Would-Be King

I want to write a blog saying there was a revolution in Congress. And throughout the land the heart of the nation was awakened⎼but it did not happen, not yet. It’s just so hard to acknowledge what is going on politically, or to think about it too much. It ‘s so ugly. And disturbing.

 

But I have to say what seems obvious to so many of us: we are confronted with a situation where one man (and those that finance and support him) thinks of the whole world, and all the other people and beings in it, as, at best, pieces to manipulate; at worst, as commodities to acquire or resources to exploit for his (their) own wealth and power. Everything and everyone exists for the taking. Even words, laws, notions of truth exist only to serve his interests. Only what increases his wealth, and what mirrors back to him his own primacy, is true. Everything else is false; everyone else is a liar and dangerous.

 

For laws to rule, the difference between opinion and facts must be, at least theoretically, fairly clear. Truth is recognized as being what really occurred or what was actually said, and what can be reliably verified. If everyone is “innocent until proven guilty,” then we are all theoretically and equally innocent unless proven guilty. For freedoms and rights to exist, the laws guaranteeing those freedoms and rights must be upheld.

 

But in Trump’s world, there are no commonly verifiable truths and thus no commonly enforceable laws. Thus, no “rule of law.” The only law is what emerges from his own mouth in that particular moment. No one is free except him. No one is innocent except as we mirror back to him his own image.

 

An example of him believing and asserting he is the truth and the law is his pardoning of Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative author, filmmaker, and admitted felon—and supporter of the president. Likewise, Trump pardoned his ardent supporter and convicted felon, Joe Arpaio, as well as Scooter Libby, the aide to former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney.

 

As Ruth Marcus argues in a column in the Washington Post, there is something particularly wrong and askew in these pardons. Trump violated the normal process and criteria for a pardon.  The process usually involves a five year waiting period and serving a sentence as well as accepting responsibility and atoning for the offense. Instead, D’Souza, and Trump, both showed disdain for the legal process itself.

 

D’Souza had admitted his guilt in court, for establishing straw donors in order to deliberately violate campaign contribution limits. However, the New York Times reminds us that on “Fox and Friends” after the pardon, he claimed his prosecution was retribution by President Obama for a movie D’Souza had made—so much for accepting responsibility and atoning for his crimes. He also asserted selective enforcement during the court trial and the judge held a hearing over the claim. The judge found: “There is no evidence of discriminatory effect nor of discriminatory purpose…” The judge called D’Souza’s claim “nonsense.”

 

After the pardon, Trump tweeted D’Souza “was treated very unfairly.” He also said nobody had asked him to grant the pardon. Yet, according to the New York Times, D’Souza himself, and congressional officials—Senator Ted Cruz (R, TX) pleaded the case for the pardon at a White House dinner the previous night.

 

As Ruth Marcus points out in her column, all these pardons show a political and personal motivation and illustrate Trump’s constant narrative of “they’re out to get me,” “I am the victim here.” Instead of these pardons serving the purpose of correcting an injustice, they commit an injustice. And they possibly also serve a very disturbing political purpose—to signal to anyone who might fear criminal prosecution for collusion with Russia, or for money laundering or corruption, that if they support Mr. Trump, they too will be pardoned. After all, he is the law.

 

If you doubt he is trying to assert this absolute power, look over his tweets from yesterday (Monday, June 4th). An article in the New York Times speaks to this and the ramifications of Trump’s actions. In one tweet he said he had “the absolute right” to pardon himself for any crime. Last year, he asserted he had “an absolute right to do what I want with the Justice Department.”

 

The NYT article goes on to quote David Kris, a former senior Justice Department national security official as saying Trump is making “a far more sweeping claim to power than even other presidents by saying he can use the Justice Department for whatever he wants.” Trump’s lawyers are in fact claiming, “that he is the law—that he is the personification of justice and cannot obstruct himself.” So much for our constitution and our laws being meant to free us from monarchs, or the King from Mar a Lago.

 

Well, Trump becomes the law only to the degree we, and our elected officials, participate in his delusion and yield to him this awesome power. Mueller by himself can’t get Congress to act. We, the majority of the American people, need to unite to stop him, and take the fight against the health care laws as an inspiration. We need to turn our distaste for even hearing his name into action, to call Congress, talk with friends and neighbors, be ready to protest, and use our imaginations to find ways to wake up an organized opposition, to wake up the heart of this nation.

 

**Update: This has been a big week for pardon talk. Why? He has granted six so far and is talking about many more. He has granted pardons both to well-known individuals and those fortunate enough to have a celebrity advocate for them. Maybe he is getting off on the power? Maybe he thinks the people he pardoned can feed his made-up narrative of the deep state being out to get him? Or maybe he thinks that if he grants lots of pardons to a diverse group of people, it would fool us into thinking he is not doing it for his own personal and political purposes? Maybe he thinks we the people would have more trouble discerning and attacking his real motivation, the one Ruth Marcus describes above: namely of undermining the pressure exerted by the Mueller Investigation on Cohen, Manafort and others to reveal what they know about T possibly colluding with Russia?

Humility, Clarity, and Critical Thinking

How do our actions differ when we feel secure in ourselves versus when we don’t? Or when we are unsure what to do, but have to do something? Or when we are very sure of what we think, but someone disagrees with us? If we want to think clearly, a little humility can go a long way.

 

When I first started teaching at the Lehman Alternative Community School in 1985, I hadn’t taught an academic class for ten years. I had taken a break in my teaching career. Walking into a large public building, with the sounds of hundreds of people in the halls, and working 10 or more hours a day to create and teach five or more lesson plans—all was new and stressful.

 

And since it had been ten years since I last taught, it was a struggle to remember the techniques I had used in earlier years or what I had studied in college or graduate school. I felt I had to appear to be an interesting person, and to provide something engaging and worthwhile for students. Only later did I realize the job was to help them find their own lives interesting and worthwhile.

 

It is often when we are unsure that we speak the loudest. I was unsure of so much, so I tried to sound sure about whatever I was teaching. It was difficult to admit what or how much I didn’t know. It was difficult to feel the school was a home where my true self could live.

 

But that changed, thanks to the students, the structure of the school, gaining experience, many hours of study—and practicing mindfulness, both by myself and with students. As I grew more comfortable with myself, students grew more comfortable with me, and it was easier to admit what I didn’t know. The classroom became a second home. I realized it was more honest and real to model asking questions instead of dictating answers, so students could discover reasonable answers on their own.

 

We all think our view of reality, of politics, of certain people, is correct. This is partly due to our biology. Even when we doubt ourselves, we can believe our self-doubt.

 

When we see a red rose, the redness arises from the way our brains interpret a certain wavelength of light. Red is the way our consciousness recognizes and interprets the light reflected off the rose. A colorblind person, or another species of animal, won’t perceive the color at all. For a red rose to appear in the world, we need at least three things: the thing seen, enough light, and a brain capable of learning about and providing color. But we don’t perceive red as a gift of our own mind, or as a way we make sense of the world. We see it as an inherent quality of the rose itself.

 

A similar thing happens in social situations. We think someone is a “good” person, or beautiful or ugly and think those qualities are permanent and totally inherent in the person, not supplied by us. The other person is just, forever, good, bad or beautiful. Or we think our solution to a problem is the only good solution, and think the goodness we perceive is objectively true. So, we never understand our own role in the world; never understand the world or ourselves.

 

We might even think, when someone disagrees with us, they are being stupid or  ill informed, and they should adopt our viewpoint over their own. And they might be ill informed, or unreasonable, but so are we if we think we can simply dictate to someone else what to think. Or if we imagine any viewpoint is objectively the only truth, and we forget that a viewpoint is just that: one way (hopefully based on reliable and verifiable evidence) to view a particular situation from the context of that particular person’s brain structure and life experience.

 

It might seem a contradiction, but feeling some humility about our own ways of understanding the world might reveal answers when none are apparent. It might help us look before we conclude—to notice what we might otherwise ignore or hear what we might otherwise never listen to, and thus save us from situations that seem impossible.

 

Humility is the quality of being humble. To be humble has very different connotations. For some people, it has negative connotations, as it can mean to be brought down low, even humiliated. Or as Wikipedia points out, in some religions, humility can mean submission, even self-abasement, to a deity. It can mean one is economically poor. Or it can have positive connotations, and mean being simple, modest and unassuming, even virtuous, in contrast with being narcissistic, vain or greedy.

 

The root of humility is humus, earth. The connotations of the word might arise from how we think of earth. Is it dirty, lowly, as contrasted with heavenly? Or does it mean grounded, or focused on the place out of which all life emerges?

 

In the martial arts, to move forward with power, we push down and back against the earth or floor. We curl our toes to grip the earth and be grounded. There is no place else we want to go, nothing else we want to do. We are thus at home in the situation and ourselves.

 

When we feel at home wherever we are, with whomever we are with, and with whatever role we play, we are more present and open. We don’t need to try to be what we aren’t but think we are supposed to be.

 

And when we realize how much our own minds color the world, we are more humble and real. We are able to perceive other people and our world with more clarity, more compassion, and more depth. Thus, we are more able to help others perceive and think about the world with more clarity, compassion and depth.

 

This is a powerful way to be and act, a powerful way to teach and relate. Humility and critical thinking should be two core elements of a modern education. This might help us save ourselves from the political and economic situation we are in. In my “humble” viewpoint, acting with some humility towards our own viewpoints, and compassion for the lives and needs of others, is certainly better than the narcissism, greed and lack of self-knowledge that we too often face today.

 

 

When A Politician Proclaims “I Am The Truth”

What happens when you discover you have been lied to, especially when the lie is not a little white lie but a major deception? In a relationship, the words you speak become part of what weaves you together into a couple or a friendship, or a story that you live. You have to feel some trust in what the other person tells you in order for a relationship to exist at all.

 

Of course, words aren’t everything. If someone says they love you or care for you and their actions say otherwise, and they abuse you, wouldn’t you doubt the words? It might depend on how you think about love, or truth.

 

The same happens in a society. A society is held together by relationships of all kinds and types, not only between friends and families, but also between politicians and constituents. When someone lies, consistently, a break occurs and the whole relationship can shatter, or it can be reshaped in distorted ways, which I think is happening today with Mr. Trump.

 

Lies are not new to politics, nor is it unusual to claim Mr. Trump lies. His lies and misleading statements are frequently pointed out in the mainstream news media (although not usually in the conservative media). But the volume and obviousness of his deceptions might be new⎼ and getting worse. Several fact check and news sources, like the Washington Post, found that in the first 100 days, he lied or played loose with facts 4.9 times a day. Recently, it has almost doubled to 9 times a day. (See also the New York Times and Politifact.) According to the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune, in an interview with the New York Times on December 28, 2017, Mr. Trump said something false, misleading, or dubious every 75 seconds.

 

For example, on May 1st, after the list of questions that the Mueller investigation might want Trump to answer was released by the New York Times, the President said none of the questions on the list were about collusion. Certainly, as far as I can tell, the word collusion was not used. But 13 of the questions were about Trump’s “campaign coordination with Russia,” which is the meaning of collusion. Or his lies about the 2017 tax cut bill, which he called a “giant tax cut” for the middle class, promising a $4,000 pay raise to each household. He called it the largest tax cut in history (ignoring, for example, the John F. Kennedy tax cut and Reagan’s) and claimed the bill “…is going to cost me a fortune.” According to a New York Times fact check, “the proposals [in the bill] seem almost tailor-made to enrich the president and people like him.” According to USA Today, this bill only advances the agenda begun 40 years ago (in the Reagan administration) of taking a trillion dollars a year that used to go to worker wages and giving it to corporations and the superrich.

 

Is it that he doesn’t realize he is lying? To lie implies some knowledge that what is being said is not truthful. If you say something and think it is accurate, and it turns out it is not, that is not a lie. It is not a truth, either. It is an inaccurate statement. Maybe he doesn’t understand what it is to say the truth?

 

What is the truth? Although there are different types and meanings of truth, in most cases, when you say something is true, you mean this is what actually exists or this is real. It is not simply an opinion or an assertion of what you like. Instead, a truth is what corresponds with the preponderance of reliable evidence.

 

Is he using the “big lie” to hide the truth, lying so openly no one can believe he is doing it? Or is he claiming there is no truth? Maybe he is simply not in touch with reality? Or is he merely saying one thing one moment and denying it the next?

 

When a person lies openly to you, you might no longer trust them and you end the relationship. But something else can occur. You might feel afraid of losing the sense of security provided by the relationship, or fear a variety of other possibilities. You might so deeply fear your relationship ending that you try to tell yourself the speaker is the truth, instead of what is spoken; or what is important is not so much the content of what is said, but the fact that a specific someone is saying it. Or the content becomes a secondary or lower truth. The higher truth is the person.

 

And this is what I think is happening today. Society is being pushed to the edge of breaking apart. And one segment of society is tying itself feverishly not to the reality of what is being said, but to the person saying it.

 

Mr. Trump and his followers are creating a mirror effect. By lying so openly, Trump asserts that he is the truth. This is another way to describe a narcissist, as someone who thinks his viewpoint is the (only valid) viewpoint, or that whatever thought enters his head is true because he thinks it. And apparently, about a third of the American people agree with him and mirror back to him his view of himself. They do not question or check the veracity of what he says, even when what he says is obviously untrue, and videos of his interviews or speeches clearly show he lied or misrepresented the facts.

 

Certainly, you could argue that his followers do check his statements. But they check only with right-wing, highly biased news sources, and are only able to confirm (mirror back to them) what they already believe. For example, 40% of Trump voters cited Fox News as their main source of political information. Fox is so distorted a media that in 2015, 52% of its viewers still believed weapons of mass destruction were found following the invasion of Iraq.

 

And Sinclair Media, nicknamed Trump media, is even worse. During the 2016 election, from July to November, the Sinclair conglomerate of stations gave Trump and his surrogates often extensive interviews 31 times. Many were declared “must run” stories by management. The Clinton campaign got seven interviews. According to former Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson, the conservative news media have convinced the white working class to focus blame for their woes “downward⎼at the racial other⎼rather than up.” So, maybe you should forgive his supporters, when they hear him say one thing one minute and a different thing the next, and for holding on not to his divergence from the facts but the fact he spoke?

 

Everyone does this to some degree (it’s called a confirmation bias), but the extent to which this is happening today with Trump is astounding. The media that Trump supporters rely on for information have conditioned them to believe Trump more than any other source of information. And when people close their eyes and minds so deeply, they are always fighting themselves and reality, and are often angry, but unable to find a cause anywhere but where Trump points them.

 

This is what happens in some religions. It is what happens in dictatorships. It is what happens in some relationships. To understand how to change this reality, you have to better understand how people leave such relationships. You have to better understand what is happening to our political system, economy, and media. You have to better understand your mind.

 

When you base your political sense of reality and security on a person who believes he is the only reality, the world will always feel threatening to you, and will always feel that it’s constantly shifting beneath you. If Trump believes he is the only reality, you and your needs are indecipherable to him, or nothing more than an illusion.

 

Crossing the Divides

Our country is divided not only in terms of which presidential candidate we supported or which policies we support, but on a much more fundamental level. We differ on what it means to be a human being. We differ in our root beliefs, our understanding of the human mind, the self, and reality. It is a difference in the way of thinking and speaking with others, in activities we engage in, in our view of what a democracy is. It is not simply a matter of income, class or color, although I think income inequity and racism are central causes and indications of division. It is spiritual, intellectual and emotional. It is not a divide between one religion and another, or religious versus secular, but runs right through all such groupings. The differing sides all feel that the other, or one of the others, threatens the world itself. This makes extreme actions appear possible or even necessary.

 

Karen Armstrong, author, religious scholar, and former nun, provides an important perspective on one issue dividing our land. In 2005, talking about the rise of fundamentalism and terrorism, she said it is wrong to even speak of conducting a war on terrorism, because it is really a religious war, one form of fundamentalism versus another. Fundamentalism is a desire to return to the fundamental values, the original state of a religion. It interprets religious doctrine literally and calls for strict adherence to such doctrine. Truth is solid, fixed, and absolute and tolerance of the “other” can be considered sin. In our world today, there is a “mushrooming worldwide religious fundamentalist revolt against modernity and secularism.” She said, “We are creatures who seek transcendence… We’re meaning-seeking creatures, we fall easily into despair.” Thus, religion has always had a place in human affairs and even the appearance of assaulting religion can have dire consequences.

 

But, she says, there is “good” religion and “bad.” “Bad” suffocates the sacred and the search for meaning and truth in dogma and rules. “Good” religion is compassion and the experience of dethroning the ego at the center of your world and finding another person or something bigger than your self there. This good religion is not anti-intellectual; it recognizes that understanding deep truths is a matter of feeling, imagination, as well as rationality. For example, some religions consider experience, rational analysis, and wisdom essential to religion. The Dalai Lama, for example, said “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”

 

Religion is not usually a consciously chosen belief. It can be foundational to one’s sense of self, culture and reality. To threaten religion is to threaten the world itself. Bad religion considers any statement, factual or otherwise, that is contrary to their religious position not only an untruth or lie, but dangerous. This can include science. Armstrong also argues that especially in nations like the US, where there is so much violent imagery in the media and entertainment, the reaction against secularism can be violent. “Whenever religion is allowed to enter political debate, positions become more rigid and absolute.” And when religion is threatened, fundamentalist membership and action increases and bad religion replaces good.

 

George Lakoff, in his wonderful book, The All New Don’t Think of An Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, provides another way to frame the divide in our nation. In America, we often use the metaphor of the nation as a family. Yet, Republicans and Democrats have a very different notion of the nature of that family, or what should be that nature. The Republicans think of the nation as needing to conform to a “strict father” model. The Democrats think of needing a “nurturant parent” model. This is, of course, a simplification of both the reality and Lakoff’s analysis, but it provides a general overview of the theory.

 

The strict father family thinks of the world “as a dangerous place…because there is evil out there in the world.” It is competitive, there is absolute right and wrong, and children, when “bad,” are born bad. So a strict father is needed to protect and teach the children. Children need to be obedient and learn discipline, and be punished when disobedient. Without discipline, the world would go to hell. If you are wealthy, it means you are disciplined. Reality dictates that if you work for your own selfish motives and success, everyone will benefit. If you try to help someone else, be compassionate, and try to nurture others, you interfere with his or her own self-discipline, and undermine self-interest. According to this reasoning, the rich are good, the poor are bad. These metaphors and beliefs translate into domestic and foreign policies that maximize the value of the rich pursuing their self-interest.

 

Democrats and progressives are likely to believe in a more gender-neutral parent model. Any gender is equally responsible for, and capable of, raising children. Children are born basically “good” or full of potential and can be nurtured to be better. You need empathy, so you can know better what your child needs. You need to take care of yourself so you can take care of your child. You need a sense of responsibility and commitment, not only for your family but your community, country, and world. You want your child to be fulfilled in life, happy. You value freedom, fairness, service, cooperation, and trust.

 

To speak across this great divide, you must use language that reflects the values others hold dear and does not threaten their religion. To tell another person they are just wrong or their ideas are evil, you strengthen the idea you oppose in the mind of the person you are talking to.

 

These are just two different perspectives out of many. We’re multidimensional and complex beings. Progressives can be closeted conservatives and conservatives can be closeted progressives. So instead of just attacking those who disagree with you, use the language and metaphors that they value in order to expose the implications or perspective they hadn’t considered. According to Lakoff, the Republican and conservative message is that Democrats, liberals and progressives are weak, angry, and softhearted, so be sincere, respectful, calm, and hold your ground. Re-frame any story anyone tries to use against you in order to illustrate that your point of view and your values show you, too, love your country. You, too, want security, opportunity, and freedom, just as they do. You agree more than you disagree. The road to the freedom and stability that conservatives’ value highly must merge with the road to equity and compassion you value highly.

 

*You might find this recent post on the election by George Lakoff extremely useful.

Is Truth Now Illegal?

We have to study Dictators and reread books like 1984. Since the election, so many people have been coming to this realization that maybe this is now obvious, but I will say it anyway: Once again, a would-be dictator is trying to impose thought control. As we’ve witnessed over the last week, the new administration has been taking steps to prevent agencies like the EPA from sharing climate information with the public. They have gone from claiming global warming is a hoax, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, to destroying that evidence. Our fearless leader doesn’t like the fact that Hillary got more popular votes than he did, so he will now start an investigation to find all those illegal voters who supposedly preferred his opponent. He doesn’t like the photos negatively comparing the size of the crowd at his own inauguration to President Obama’s, so he claims the photos were altered and information distorted. He doesn’t like a CNN reporter questioning him, so he tries to prevent the reporter from speaking. He doesn’t like people protesting his policies and statements, as with the Women’s March, so he sends out his press secretary to deny what occurred, and Republican legislators in 5 states try to make it illegal to peacefully protest.

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” George Orwell, 1984.

This is both laughable and frightening. The consequences of such actions can be disastrous. He may try to imprison truth, but truth can be slippery and easily escape, to take revenge on him and on all of us. Any statement about ‘truth’ is a statement about reality. Our daily lives depend on how well we discern it. We depend on scientific information, for example. Will he next outlaw the weather forecast? It, too, is based on climate science. Will he stop the use of climate information from going to cities and towns on the coasts that could be used to prepare for sea level rise? Will he try to stop information going to medical researchers about the harmful effects of air pollution and thus cause the death of many children or cause more lung and breathing problems in our population?

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” George Orwell.

Our economy is dependent on science. Creating new technologies can be a rich source of new jobs, but if scientific research is interfered with and access to it restricted, our economy will falter.

“We are not interested in the good of others. We are interested solely in power, pure power.”

“Power is in tearing human minds apart and putting them together again in shapes of your own choosing.”

In whatever area of life you look at, restricting information, restricting science, making up reality to fit your vision of power, puts everyone at risk. You try to lock away truth when you fear it. Since truth is about what is real, he is trying to lock away reality so none of us, including himself, can perceive it. I think he is doing this not only so he has free reign to do as he pleases without being held accountable, but so he doesn’t have to see what he is.

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”

This is 1984. But we don’t have to allow ourselves to be infected by this vision of the world. “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” Schools, news media, social media, people passing on the street, gatherings, demonstrations: perceiving and telling the truth, “speaking truth to power,” is now a revolutionary act.

 

*Journalists have also been arrested for covering last week’s protests. Please do not forget these journalists.

Do You Agree “There Are No Such Things As Facts?”

A week ago, on the NPR Diane Rehms Show, I heard a beautiful example of a self-refuting statement spoken live on the radio. I didn’t realize what I was hearing right away, although the quote certainly caught my attention. The show was a panel discussion answering the question, “How are journalists rethinking their role under a Trump presidency?” The guests included 5 professional news editors, columnists, and reporters including James Fallows (The Atlantic), and Scottie Nell Hughes (RightAlerts.com & former D. Trump surrogate).

 

During the program, James Fallows said a lie was when you knew the truth, yet repeated a falsehood for a personal motive. He said there was clear evidence the apparent President-elect lied on several occasions. Scottie Nell Hughes, a Trump “booster,” was asked for her response to this. Her reply was “There are no such things as facts.” She used Mr. Trump’s claim that millions of people voted illegally in the last election to explain her viewpoint. She says, [I edited the text to make it more comprehensible] “And so Mr. Trump’s tweet [about illegal voters, was taken] … [by] a certain crowd, a large part of the population, …[as the] truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, …his supporters, … believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say [his statements] are lies, and there’s no facts to back …up his claims.”

 

Think about this statement. And ask everyone you know, your students and friends, to think about this statement. Discuss it in your classroom or place of work. What could she possibly mean by this? It is of immense importance. Is she saying that because a large part of the population believes what Mr. Trump says and supports him, therefore his statements are true? And, therefore, there are no lies for him to be called to account for?

 

I think it is true those who believe in Mr. Trump take his words as truth. But is a truth or a fact decided by a popularity contest or vote count? Certainly popularity will influence whether or how well a truth will be perceived, and there is a social dimension to any truth. But how does her way of speaking of ‘facts’ make any sense—and how would a fact differ from an opinion? Or is everything somehow an opinion?

 

Mr. Fallows’ point that a truth is opposite a lie provides one way to answer these questions. If Scottie Hughes thinks there are no facts, she must think there are no truths and no lies. How do you know what’s a lie if there is no truth? A fact is by definition something known to be true, something based on evidence that you could demonstrate repeatedly. Likewise, ‘truth’ is from a root meaning ‘faithfulness’ (treowth), as in faithful to reality. It is real. If there are no truths, there are also no accurate or faithful definitions of words. You would never know if the sound you heard in your mind or uttered by another person is a word, nor what it meant. Nor would you know what you wanted to say. Therefore, you could never speak. When you opened your mouth, just noise would emerge.

 

To say “there are no facts” is equivalent to saying, “it is a fact that there are no facts.” By speaking these words you nullify the “fact” that you spoke. Therefore, can anything you say be other than meaningless gibberish? Or is Scottie Nell Hughes really saying that only what is in opposition to her statements is meaningless gibberish?

 

*P. S. Scottie Hughes’ viewpoint did not arise out of a vacuum and is not entirely new, only new in the blatant way it has been applied to the electoral process. It is part of a battle over the nature of the human mind, or what it means to be human, that has been waged for over a hundred years and maybe forever. A few years ago, students in one of my classes argued, “there is no such thing as truth.” When asked what they meant by truth, they responded with: “A truth is permanent, unchanging, absolute, like ‘God’s truth.’“ And: “Since I can know truth only through my own experience, and we all have different experiences, how can there be one truth?” This and other discussions on the topic showed me how important it is to discuss with students the meanings of words like truth, fact, and opinion, not just to voice diverse viewpoints but to analyze and question them.

 

It is easy for people to think that truth should exist in isolation from the minds of all those who perceive and understand it, like they might think the objects of the world exist in isolation from other objects. But isn’t a truth, like a fact, like a word, interdependent with the situation, context and mind—with the universe in which the perceiver of truth appears? To borrow an example from the philosopher Ken Wilber, the word ‘bark’ depends on the the context of the sentence and the ability of the speaker and listener to speak the language. (“The dog barks every morning,” versus “the bark of the tree.”) Physicist and author Jeremy Hayward calls perception itself a “creative dance.” “[A]s we move through the world, we… experience a mutual creation between what is there and the ideas and emotions that seem fitting at the time.” He thinks the world you see is inextricably tied to who you are. You and your world are not two, and never separate. If he is correct, meaning his reasoning is logical, comprehensive, and based on demonstrably accurate information, then each mind influences the way a world is perceived, yet there are still truthful and not truthful statements, and facts.

 

**Terry Gross recorded a Fresh Air episode relevant to this topic on 12/7, interviewing Dean Baquet, executive editor of the NY Times. You might find it interesting.

Educating Perception

You might think the world is the world, what you see is what is there. The truth is the truth. Yet, how does the world feel with no hands to touch it? If your ears were sensitive to sounds lower in pitch, would you hear collisions of molecules in the air? What a different world that would be! If you could see a tree in infrared, would the tree have a halo around it and seem blessed? Humans can hear sounds up to 20,000 cycles per second. Mice, whales, and bats can hear sounds at 100,000 per second. How would your experience of the world change if sound were your dominant sense, not sight? A dog can differentiate over 250,000 odors, a human maybe 10,000. How would your experience of the world change if smell were your dominant sense? The world perceived is dependent on the sensory system that perceives it.

 

A tragedy occurs in your social world and for you “the world is tragic.” You see a red rose, a frightening auto accident, and a beautiful sunset. Are the red of the rose, the fear, and the beauty objective elements that exist independent of humans? And the classic: when a tree falls in the forest and no human or animal is there to hear it, is there a sound?

 

To what degree is the truth perceived dependent on the person who perceives it? The world appears differently to different people, but how big can the difference be? A human baby’s sense of smell and taste, and the sensitivity of their skin, is well developed at birth. Sound takes a little longer. A baby immediately looks for and can see faces right away, but seeing full people, or the whole context of a room they are in, develops gradually over a year or more. Not everyone can see colors. If you have the ability to see color, imagine the world from the perspective of a color-blind person. Or imagine what it would be like for a person from the 12th Century to visit the US today, or vice versa. It makes great science fiction. Yet, most of us insist our view of what is real is the one and only view. To some degree, we need that to survive. How long would you live if you stepped off the curb, a car came at you, and you stopped to debate whether you should see the car from the perspective of an ant or a human? Culture, historical time period, personal history, age, social context, etc. all condition your perceptions and ways of thinking.

 

How do you answer these questions? And how could a teacher explore them with students? One way to explore this is through developing mindful self-awareness. Another is through studying the science and analyzing the vocabulary of perception. For example, what differentiates a sensation from a perception? The two words are often used similarly and ambiguously. Sensation is often used in psychology to refer to the stimulation of sense receptors or to raw sense information, before the information is interpreted or becomes conscious. However, a perception is conscious.

 

So how would sound be defined? It too is often used ambiguously. Is a sound the sound wave produced when a tree falls? Or the perception of the sound waves produced by a tree falling? If it is the latter, then an ear is necessary for hearing to occur, and there is no sound without a hearer, no taste without a taster.

 

Children of all ages enjoy trying to figure out optical illusions. In schools, you could study what these illusions demonstrate about your senses and sense of reality. For example, there is the figure-ground principle and salienceSalience means value or importance; your brain assigns value to certain parts of the visual field. Your attention is selective. You don’t (consciously) perceive all that passes before you (even if some part of us is aware of it all). We have thresholds, dividing lines in all the senses, above which you are aware, below you are unaware. If you were consciously aware of every stimuli in your environment, you would die, burn out. Figure-ground refers to how you pick out elements of a visual stimuli to focus on and the rest becomes background. For example, there are illusions of faces, like the Rubin Vase or the old-young woman figure. (Take a look at the provided links to see examples of the illusions discussed.)

 

Another principle is that of meaningfulness. No perception is without interpretation and meaning, and this meaning usually appears as an element of the objects perceived, not as an element of the mind perceiving. This is illustrated by the blind spot in your eye. In the back of the retina there is an area where there are no receptor cells. It is where the optic nerve forms to transmit information to the brain. Yet, you don’t see an empty spot in your visual field. Your brain “fills in” the spot. Other illustrations of how the brain can fill in “holes” in your field of perception to make the scene meaningful are the illusion where a Dalmatian dog appears out of a scene of black and white spots, or when you perceive an incomplete figure as complete. Did you ever drive at dusk or at night in a fog and misperceive something in your peripheral vision?

 

A few other principles can deepen the discussion. For example, a perceptual set is a pre-set or habitual manner of perceiving phenomena. This can be illustrated in various ways. For one, the young-old woman ambiguous figure. Show one half of a class of students pictures of old women. Show the other half pictures of young women. Then show them the optical illusion. There’s a good chance the students who saw the pictures of the young women will see the young woman first in the ambiguous figure. This would work better, of course, if none of your students had ever seen the ambiguous figure. The principle can also be seen with illusions of perspective, for example, those which illustrate how train tracks appear to narrow in the distance—or illusions of context and expectation, such as the one above where you see the 13, when you read 12, 13, 14; or you see a B as you read A, B, C.

 

With ambiguous figures, all the information to perceive either figure is present. You only see one figure at a time. For example, in the Rubin vase illusion, you can either see a vase or two faces—you never perceive both the vase and the faces at once. When you see the vase, you will swear the drawing is only of a vase. Yet, you can go back and forth between interpretations. There is no correct way to see the ambiguous figure, but you can understand the ambiguity of perception.

 

The depth and accuracy of a perception can be increased (or decreased) by how the perceiver is educated.

 

Does this mean that there is no truth? I think it means that truth is interdependent with context, mind—with the universe in which the perceiver of truth appears. Physicist and author Jeremy Hayward calls perception a “creative dance.” “[A]s we move through the world, we don’t see what is really there. We experience a mutual creation between what is there and the ideas and emotions that seem fitting at the time.” (page 68) To a large degree, perception is a subject meeting an object or other being. The world you see is inextricably tied to who you are. You and your world are not two. It is not just the sensation by itself which determines how much pain or joy you experience, but how you interpret or perceive it.

 

So, when you perceive someone as threatening, or think your view of the world is the only correct view, you might consider whether you are looking at the vase or the faces.

 

 

*If you teach high school and want a resource for your students to read, or just want a deeper discussion of these issues for yourself, read: Letters To Vanessa: On Love, Science and Awareness in an Enchanted World, by Jeremy Hayward, physicist and Buddhist teacher. You might also read: The Butterfly’s Dream, by Zen teacher Albert Low.