Recently, I had a conversation with a friend that sparked a biblical concept that many of us are familiar with: “the truth shall set you free”. Upon pondering about the concept deeper, I began to question it’s veracity. Does the truth actually set you free? Is truth objective or subjective? Is truth logical or emotional? I believe the truth can be a little of both, and it ultimately comes down to the mindset of the person being exposed to said truth. In a natural flow of things, I decided to check the dictionary for the definition of the word “truth”.
Merriam Webster presented many definitions for the word truth, but two definitions stuck out to me particularly: 1) The body of real things, events, and facts; 2) A judgment, proposition, or idea that is accepted as true. The former and latter definitions piqued my interest, because they made me think about the varied paradigmatic dynamics individuals may have of the world. What truth rules your reality? Are you a believer of the logical truth based on concrete measurable facts, or are you a believer of an emotional truth based on subjective perceptions? What does the field of psychology teach us about truths? What keeps people from facing, acknowledging, and accepting “the truth”?
Throughout my collegiate career, I had the opportunity to take a few psychology classes. One of the concepts I learned about was that of cognitive dissonance, which was coined in 1957 by American psychologist Leon Festinger. Merriam Webster defines cognitive dissonance as the “psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously”. Put simply, cognitive dissonance is the discomfort you feel when faced with two or more choices, regardless of how difficult those choices may be. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, we deal with psychological discomfort by either: rejecting, explaining, or avoiding information that conflicts with what we know; persuading ourselves into believing that no conflict really exists, reconciling the differences within the conflict; or resorting to any other defensive means that will allow us to make sense of the conflict at hand, to return to a state of balance and stability.
Examples of Cognitive Dissonance
We all experience cognitive dissonance in a variety of levels in our daily lives. However, our minds are so efficient, that we hardly catch the autonomic response that resolves the conflict at hand to maintain stability, without even noticing it. The following are a few real life examples:
Say you are a cigarette smoker. The logical truth is that smoking can cause cancer, which can ultimately lead to your death. You also suffer from anxiety, and your perceived emotional truth is that smoking cigarettes is the only way to calm your anxiety. Mentally, you quell the cognitive dissonance presented, by explaining to yourself that smoking is good for your anxiety (immediate gratification), although it may cause you lung cancer and death (long term consequence).
Say you have attained life success and are married with children. After years of hard work and dedication, you get two simultaneous job offers that put you in a bind. On one hand, that out-of-state “dream job” you have wanted since you were a child, is finally knocking on your door, presenting you the opportunity to work at the company you always wanted, with the team you always wanted, doing exactly what you always wanted to do. On the other hand, you get another in-state job opportunity that pays you double the amount of money and benefits of your “dream job”, but its with a company whose vision does not align with yours. Your spouse advises you that they are supportive of whatever decision you make. So what’s more important happiness or financial stability? For the purposes of this example, you quell the cognitive dissonance presented by rejecting the second job offer altogether, and deciding to take the dream job you always wanted.
How about if you had a role model like comedian Dave Chappelle did in Bill Cosby? In his 2019 stand-up comedy skit “Sticks and Stones”, Dave Chappelle explained how he grew up looking up to Bill Cosby for the fame and success he reached throughout his stand-up, film, and television careers. Bill Cosby gained fame via his own sitcom the “Bill Cosby Show”, as well as his animated comedy television series “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids”, among other things. However, Bill Cosby’s legacy became muddied in the mid 2010’s decade, when he was accused and later convicted in 2018 for sexual assault. The logical truth based on accusations and in-depth law enforcement investigations was that Bill Cosby was guilty of criminal acts for which he was incarcerated. The logical and emotional truth in the eyes of Dave Chappelle, was that Bill Cosby was heroic and honorable, and did provide the black community and the world a glimpse of a great American man. I can’t speak for Dave Chappelle, but I can imagine that he was troubled. How would you cognitively disassociate your perceived emotional image of someone you look up to and deeply care about, when logical factual truths point to heinous acts they may have committed?
So What’s Keeping us from Listening to the Truth?
Two things in life that can’t be argued are the following: 1) Our body, mind, and spirit are hardwired for survival. Regardless of how peaceful or chaotic the environment that surrounds us is, we are biologically hardwired to do whatever it takes to keep ourselves safe and comfortable; 2) We do not grow, evolve, or progress when we stay safe and comfortable. It’s a scientific fact that if a metaphorical muscle is not flexed for growth, it will quickly atrophy and/or waste away. One metaphorical muscle that has atrophied over time in society, is that of personal ownership and responsibility. We need to learn to lead ourselves, our communities, and our society down the right path. What better way to get there, than actually being able to look at things for what they are instead of what we perceive them to be? It is imperative that we accept truth based on what is factual, and not what is merely accepted because everyone mindlessly accepts it. So what are some things that are keeping you from listening to and facing life’s factual truths?
You Can’t Handle the Truth
Put plain and simply: The truth is too much for you to bare. You have not developed the emotional intelligence and maturity to face the facts. I’m not talking about the facts that are convenient to your perception. I am speaking about the true facts that call your character into question. These are the facts that “attack” your lack of responsibility, your lack of accountability, your lack of humility, your ego, your pride, and make you feel bad. Oh yeah! I’m getting personal here. Listen, no one likes to be wrong. No one likes to feel inadequate. No one likes to feel like they don’t have what it takes to be successful. However, if you don’t learn to take life’s face shots, learning to spar your way to becoming a better human being, then you will never gain the ability to even begin to tap into your true potential. If you can’t gain the ability to tap into your own potential, how will you possibly be able to help those that surround you do so?
You Haven’t Defined Yourself
One of the most comical paradoxes in life, are the “wise” people that want to give advice, but don’t follow it themselves. I am not speaking about those people that are actively working to better themselves, and pass on advice as they progress through life. I am speaking about the “wise” men and women, that don’t remember the last time they did anything productive in their personal and professional lives, but then want to give you advice on how to lead yours. They haven’t had a successful relationship, but can tell you how to meet prince charming or the woman of your dreams. They never started a business, but can provide you the tips and tricks to become a billionaire and successful business owner. They never did a single push-up, but want to provide you the nutrition and fitness advice needed to become Matthew Fraser or Tia-Clair Toomey (2019 CrossFit Games Champions).
None of these people defined themselves in their 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, etc years of life. Yet, here you are eating all of their antiquated and stagnated “knowledge” up like you’re in a buffet. If you don’t define yourself, if you don’t define what’s important to you, If you don’t define what you stand for, anything and anybody will have the ability to mold your mind to their liking. Your perception, your view of the world, and your reality will be skewed, tainted, and warped by people who want you to believe they’ve got the world figured out. The reality is that they don’t. If you don’t feed yourself with the right information, you’re destined to fail. You’ll inevitably become either too ignorant or too naive to understand that you’ve now become collateral damage, to someone else who is still just trying to define themselves. Within 10, 20, 30, or 40 years from now, you’ll become the “wise” man or woman who “figured life out” but is still struggling to find themselves. Taking the time to figure out the truth about yourself and your life, is the best way to define who you are, and what direction you’re heading in life.
You Can’t Separate Perception From Reality
Your upbringing, your environment, your education, the media, the information you expose yourself to, the people you surround yourself with on a daily basis, etc., all affect your paradigm and perception of the world. It’s important to be perceptive, and to allow our past experiences to intuitively raise a flag of caution in circumstances that seem out of the ordinary. From time to time, we are all guilty of letting our perceptions lead to assumptions that ultimately make or break isolated encounters we have with people we meet, as well as general life experiences. Unfortunately, a lot of people allow perceptions to become so deeply ingrained in their hearts and minds, that they sabotage themselves into having the inability to look at things objectively. When the latter happens, perceptions cease from being sensational interpretations in isolated incidents, to evolving into biased and nonfactual habitual “realities”.
The problem with allowing your perceptions to evolve into nonfactual “realities”, is that you become overly critical about every minuscule detail that surrounds you. You question everything and everyone in your external environment, and become ignorant of the fact that you’ve never truly questioned and explored what led to the development of you being so critical. You become hyper-focused on how your environment is potentially negatively affecting you, and hypo-focused on the actions you are taking that are negatively affecting you. The convergence of the former and latter ultimately lead to a fixed mindset, where you prime yourself to be a “victim” of circumstance. As a “victim” of circumstance, you buy into the notion that external influences overpower your ability to take control of your life. The fact is that you had control of your life all along, but you were too busy focusing on the obstacles, instead of the solutions to overcome them.
Call to Action
The buck starts and ends with you. Before the truth can set you free, you need to gain the ability to see it, understand it, learn from it, and act on it. Don’t let yourself get carried away by the emotions that blind you from seeing things for what they truly are. Don’t let your surroundings negatively dictate the perception you build of the world around you. Make today the day that you’re going to make the choice to seek the truth that is going to enable you to grow into the person you’re destined to become. If you don’t know where to start, please make sure to check out my list of recommendations here.
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