Year of Discovery (Week 39: Pure or Evolving Truth & How to Be an Adult)
This year has started in a remarkably unexpected way. Through a number of flight cancellations, I ended up staying in Belgium, rather than Chicago as planned. I was a bit skeptical on Jan 1 about feeling a new rush of energy this year but the momentum has picked and I’m diving in. Through my schooling, I’ve started a series of new books in cognitive psychology, psychology of personality and understanding choice in the past, present and future. I’m creating clearer goals on a project I will pilot this year and through it all, I’m reminding myself that I only have this moment.
Today I’m writing a reflection on a pure vs evolving truth and how to be an adult.
Pure vs Evolving Truth
I’ve been fascinated by the idea of truth for as long as I can remember.
An early business idea I had was focused on democratizing access to ‘truth’ or ‘knowledge’ for the general public. I thought that by bringing academia, the public and media closer together, we could decrease the growing divide between various ideologies and increase peace. If the greater public could crowdfund research on topics that are important to them, ‘science’ would be able to help us come to more of a consensus.
Over time, it’s become clear how much I was simplifying the problem. I was blind to my own thinking habits: if x happens, then y, rather than seeing the whole system dynamics and taking on the perspectives of others. While I regarded myself as an open-minded person, I realized that rather than truly taking on other people’s perspectives, it felt safer and more comfortable to operate within my own vantage point. Back then, when I was faced with pushback for the idea, I would just tell myself that others don’t understand me rather than pushing myself to engage others’ truths and coming up with a new truth together. While I continue to see more room for improvement today, I learned how to engage with various stakeholders and evolve my sense of truth when I built Moringa. Changing the habits of the mind and thinking in systems are muscles to build.
As a society, we’ve moved so quickly towards a polarized world that encourages a zero-sum game and promotes the likes of cancel culture. By simplifying truths, we’re promoting fundamentalism, where we deny the existence of a principled middle ground. Regardless of whether we ‘side’ with religion or science, what is foundational to fundamentalism is believing in an unchanging guarantor of Truth.
In Minds Wide Shut, authors and professors Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro describe the difference in approach between Martin Luther and Erasmus in how they approach Christianity. Luther shows absolute confidence that the Scripture is perfectly clear and believes the rejection of skepticism should apply not only to sacred writing but also to the world in general. He believes that a Christian does not doubt but firmly knows and that one’s opponent is simply wrong. Erasmus, on the other hand, suggest that we cannot be too certain about the meaning of certain obscure passages; interestingly enough, he had special authority to say so, as he had edited and translated the New Testament. He is deeply skeptical about the powers of the human mind to discern truth and is keenly aware of the tendency of people to leap to conclusions, rule out discrepant evidence and seek what confirms prior beliefs.
“Therefore, I merely want to analyze and not to judge, to inquire and not to dogmatize. I am ready to learn from anyone who advances something more accurate and more reliable.” — Erasmus
As Erasmus believes, the alternative to seeking truth is dialogue. Seeking truth is seeking people whose views can confirm our own and seeking dialogue is truly opening up our minds to a potentially new reality.
I can recall going into a number of conversations with a clear and emerging conviction on a certain idea, only to be completely mind-altered throughout the conversation and realizing I needed to go back and re-examine the idea. I’d like to believe that the person I was chatting with also had a similar experience, where we can both take the new perspectives from that conversation to evolve our sense of truth. In conversations where I find myself more closed off to others’ views because I’m trying to ‘sell’ a truth, I find myself more rigid, and therefore, more drained.
“The opposite of a simple truth is a simple lie. The opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth.” — Jennifer Garvey Berger, CEO at Cultivating Leadership
Taking on others’ perspectives and thinking from a systems level (understanding how the various parts in a system interact) is not an easy task. Holding onto one’s perspective means we believe everything around us is unchanging. But when we quiet our mind, feel the ever-changing sensations in our body, listen to the changing sounds around us and the changes in the leaves outside, we see that nature shows us everything is changing at every moment. If we know that everything is changing, then that means our perspectives need to be open to changing at all times as well and that the system around us is changing too. We are different at every second then the second before so by realizing this, we can extrapolate that to others and the broader system.
But don’t take my word for this. We each need to do the work to reflect on our own past experiences and observe our current experiences to formulate our beliefs around these topics. Over time, moving from simply being able to talk about these concepts to having them seep into our lived experience is the ultimate goal.
How to Be An Adult
Dr. Robert Kegan’s Theory of Adult development is an incredible framework for adult development. While many of us may think that adult development focuses on skills development, that’s only one slice of the pie. Kegan says that becoming an adult is about changing the way we know and understand the world, and about increasing the objectivity to the way we experience ourselves in the world. Kegan’s theory outlines 5 distinct stages of development:
- Stage 1 — Impulsive mind (early childhood)
- Stage 2 — Imperial mind (adolescence, 6% of adult population)
- Stage 3 — Socialized mind (58% of the adult population)
- Stage 4 — Self-Authoring mind (35% of the adult population)
- Stage 5 — Self-Transforming mind (1% of the adult population)
As I was researching this, I stumbled upon a great set of articles to share instead. Check out Natali Morad’s series on these various stages, and please do share your thoughts!
What I’m Listening to This Week: On the Promotion of Human Flourishing