Courage and Truth

To search for truth is an act of incredible courage. We often, both consciously and unconsciously, hide behind convenient lies. We tell ourselves that we are good people, smart, honourable, helpful and altruistic. We tell ourselves that our social circle is made up of great people and that it is the best social circle to have. Sometimes we tell ourselves the opposite, that we are worthless, stupid, lazy, unworthy or that society in which we live is hopelessly corrupt, selfish etc. Whatever the predominant narrative of our internal conversation it is always based on habit and as such provides comfort to us. Humans crave predictability and order and once we settle into a mode of thought we do not want to get out of it. Human mind fears the unknown and change more than anything. But truth is elusive and ever changing and that is why we often actively work to supress it. If you stare truth in the face you will see that in addition to being smart and altruistic, you are also, like any human, selfish, lazy, stupid, naïve, greedy etc. And that is very scary, not so much because we are those things, but because it shatters our comfortable illusions and, even more importantly, forces us to take responsibility for bettering ourselves.

This theme is even more pronounced when we look at how we perceive the outside world. There, fear works even harder to make us accept convenient truths, from beliefs about the group we belong to, to beliefs about the society and its institutions. It is very comforting to say, we Canadians are civilized, polite, and overall diplomatic and helpful people. It is also very comforting to think that our institutions are benevolent and work in our best interest, or that “experts” know everything better than us and that that knowledge works exclusively towards our benefit. Reality, of course is a lot more nuanced that that. For every polite and civilized Canadian there is one that is xenophobic, brutish and plain petty – national identity is a 19th century myth. Our institutions are large bureaucracies run by career bureaucrats and as such are inefficient, ineffective and prone to careerism, nepotism and all kinds of abuse. “Experts” are often very narrowly educated and lack wisdom brought about by breadth of knowledge. Even those that are truly intellectual giants are still very human and as such greedy, lazy, fearful and selfish. This, then, is our reality, multi-faceted, complex, every shade of gray and at best uncertain, at worst chaotic. To accept this takes enormous courage because it shatters all convenient illusions about what our role and responsibility is within our society. If the group we belong to, our institutions and so-called “experts” are fallible then we cannot rely on them for comfort, safety and decision making. Instead, we must rise to the occasion, take responsibility, fix what is broken and face the unpleasant reality of our existence.   And because truth is ever changing and, in many ways, relative, we can never arrive at the “truth” and finish our quest. We must continuously seek it and throw away everything we though was the truth up to that point.  That is a lot of work and it is scary stuff, but in order to live a conscientious life, a life of meaning, duty and honour it must constantly be done. One comforting thing is that more we embrace the truth for what it is, as opposed to what we want it to be, the easier it becomes. Just like learning to ride the bike is terrifying, as soon as we overcome our fear, it becomes easy and exhilarating.  

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