How do you know the truth?
We live in a very complicated world. We have information bombarding us from all directions.
No need to find it, it finds you. The opportunities for shutting it all out are less easy to find. The ability to disseminate it and make sense of it all is daunting. So how do you know what is right, wrong, true or false?
I grew up in a less complicated time when viewed from an information availability perspective. Before television, before computers, before the internet. I suspect a lot of the folks reading this Jottings piece share a similar background. We all had to use our eyes, ears, nose, and brain to experience life around us and we took the sum of all of these things together to try to make sense of it all. Even in the simpler times of my childhood, it was hard to know the truth. We had newspapers, Pathé News at the movies, mail and radio as our sources of news on society in general and life around us. We took all of this plus what we observed in our local community and what we overheard grown-ups talking about in our presence to know about the world and our lives.
I grew up just after the end of World War II, in a time of peace and austerity. I lived in Belfast, a heavily industrialized city dominated by Harland and Wolfe's, one of the biggest ship builders in the world at that time. We lived a very simple life, in east Belfast, living in a very small community where every adult was your parent. I went to church every Sunday and listened to scary sermons preaching hell and damnation. I went to colorful parades several times a year with loud bands and men with wearing regalia and waving banners. This was my own small world, where I acquired what I knew was true.
As I got older, I became aware of people to associate with, and not to associate with. I was aware of important behavioral norms that I should adopt to be correct. I was very fortunate to grow up in a very liberal home with little to no extreme views being aired. Being a quiet, shy and self-conscious boy, I developed a habit of watching, listening and not speaking. Most of my friends today would find this hard to believe.
In my early teens, I became uncomfortable with the truth that I was expected to believe and follow, to be accepted. In church I had to be saved to go to heaven, and I was required to keep at arm's length, distrust, dislike and even abuse, the people who lived in my community who were of a different religious faith. This second one was particularly troublesome since I knew many of these people who were my own age, and they were my friends. So the truth that I was hearing from my own people was something that I could not and would not accept as the truth. I discovered that my influences were teaching me to hate people because they, coincidentally, were born into a home of a different faith than mine. Our birth that has nothing to do with us, has automatically branded us as either good or bad.
I became sensitized to all of the information that I was hearing from adults in my environment, the newspapers, radio and including local politicians, and I found that they used the same generalized, hate generating distortions. Throughout my life, I used the principle that every individual is good until proven not to be within the data points that I personally collected. I had the privilege of working with many people from many countries in my various working environments where, reputed bad people given the opportunity magically became some of my best employees with exceptional potential.
The truth should not be assumed as defined for you by others. I do my best to treat all people with respect, and take them as I find them without the baggage of reputation, rumor, or the opinions of others.
We live in a world of clichés. Categorization is a lazy and inaccurate way to define anything or anyone. It is only when we pay attention, listen and watch carefully, that the truth will unveil itself.
Roy Houston is a member of the Jottings Group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.