We humans are curious creatures. We are all abuzz and a flurry with our lives. Those lives bump into other lives and we negotiate ways to smooth out rough edges. Patterns and strategies emerge, these get built into social mores and governance approaches, and after a few thousand years, we have unlocked all kinds of new opportunities while also tying ourselves up in quite the web of human-designed systems that block dreamers and subjugate free will.
Somewhere in all of this crazy amazing and scary stupid, is the path we walk for ourselves. Our individual “truth,” which is simply our life’s journey through this corner of the cosmic energy mesh we have labeled “reality.” It’s not so very real, and its not so easily labeled, but here we are taking each day as it arrives.
Some people seek fame and fortune. Some wander around the streets mumbling to themselves. Some build empires. Some have never used a toilet and wouldn’t know how to use one even if we gave them one (which actually has happened. Turns out they make great grain storage containers). Some try and fail before succeeding. Some try, fail and give up hope. Some are born poor and struggle to achieve wealth, while others are born into ridiculous amounts of wealth and struggle to find meaning.
All this happens on one planet. Actually life happens within a fairly thin atmospheric strata on top of this one, arguably “lonely” planet with 8 billion of our closest friends. That’s where it becomes extra interesting. As if carving out a sense of identity, and figuring out our own journey toward “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” wasn’t enough, we have to deal with our neighbors.
Sure, some of them are family and friends – with whom we usually want to share our journey. Some of them are coworkers, customers, vendors, social media “friends”, trusted advisors, and of course entities such as media outlets, governments, corporations, schools and the labels even include enemies and evildoers. The extra “interesting” part is the energy these neighbors infuse into our journey.
When living and sharing our personal truth, it’s not something that comes with a user manual (borrowing from a sentiment shared by my mother). We can’t turn to page 13,767 and look at a schematic that gives us the answers. We go and engage our neighbors through a complex pattern of trust, ego and other marvelously subjective criteria which we may never even stop to question. We observe, we talk, we listen to a subset of our 8 billion neighbors, and then, through some additional magic — which again happens sometimes without our even realizing it — we internalize different facets of our neighbor’s energy and use it to guide our decisions and beliefs through our life’s journey. In short, we program ourselves using source code provided by our neighbors. Some of that is paid for but a bulk of it is free and open source.
Think that’s fun? But wait, it gets funnererer (“polk-a-dot polk-a-dot polk-a-dot afro!” What? You haven’t seen Madagascar 3 or The Penguins of Madagascar? Please go do that now). Some of our neighbors are lonely and want people to accept their truth to feel better about themselves. Some of our neighbors want us to accept a truth because that’s how things have always been. Some of our neighbors troll through our internet and media consumption/behavior to figure out how to program us better. Some of our neighbors employ psychological tactics to inject “malware” into our personal programming. Some of our neighbors are downright out to control some aspect of our decision-making to benefit their truth, annnd (* gasp *) sometimes furthering their truth is done at the expense of us fulfilling our truth.
Ergo, there are a whole lot of our neighbors, even some of whom love and care about us, who are not necessarily interested in us finding our own truth. For a variety of reasons, they just want us to accept their truth as our truth.
Probably the most obvious of these is viral activism. Every met an activist? They have done all the thinking for us. They know exactly what our truth should be and if we choose anything else, well then, we are wrong. This sense of “be this way or you are wrong” is combined with populist social media campaigning to drive our neighbor’s beliefs into a viral force (probably akin to mob mentality). Once there is enough momentum, people will champion the belief as though it is part of their identity and they defend it as their truth without actually knowing the details behind that truth. Go ahead, attempt to apply rational thought, question the empirics, question the messaging, attempt to seek a personal truth – those efforts get crushed under the pressure of viral activism. This comes at us in many forms.
However, we are, as neighbors, better than that. There are as many truths as there are people. Each one of us lives our own truth. We create and maintain our own inner web of personal beliefs and constructs from which we make decisions and pursue our journey. Our American Founders wanted to encourage this approach. They wanted freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religion. They wanted us to have liberty. They still had their own truths that baffle me, and I don’t buy everything, but I tend to think the United States Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were extraordinarily visionary for the era in which they emerged. Hundreds of years later, those documents are still a beacon of hope for people all over this planet.
The temptation to rest on the laurels of this high-pressure group-think can be strong – whether it is a viral campaign, a trusted friend, a paid advisor, social circles, or family. Imagine the comfort of being handed a belief that is “well researched” and makes sense. If it comes from someone we trust and sounds reasonable, it’s easy to take that programming and make it part of our beliefs. And that’s fine. In an era where we’ve gone from the information age, to the over-information age and have now entered the age of truth-seeking (sifting through deep-fake news and trying to discern our best attempt at some kind of truth), we cannot research everything. If we choose to accept some group-think truths, so be it. If we choose to believe something we were told as a child and hold on to that, again, that’s our choice.
Sometimes it is the opposite. We hold on to negative truths: beliefs about our neighbors, about friends, about family members and especially about ourselves. We can listen and align ourselves with beliefs that undermine other people or make us feel bad about ourselves. We hold on to beliefs which tell us we don’t deserve to have the life we dream about, or tell us we deserve to suffer. Even as damaging as these “truths” might be, we find them hard to face. It’s easier to “suffer with the devil you know.” The energy it can take to reprogram ourselves might seem insurmountable, but all of our programming is chosen. All of it. It can be rewritten. It might take a lot of practice and a lot of mistakes, but if we can fall down a thousand times and not give up on learning to walk, we can do this, too.
The most important part of living our truth is that we make it OUR truth. It’s not our neighbor’s truth. We aren’t living our parent’s truth, our employer’s truth, our school’s truth, or even (drumroll) our political party’s truth. Our neighbors can and should have their own opinions. We should be able to talk about it. To explore. Then, we are free to accept or reject, to derive or refine any aspect of our internal programming at any time. We are free to reconsider which neighbors we are listening to and to seek out energy we believe is better for us or will help us think better of ourselves, help us reach for our dreams and help our neighbor’s reach for theirs. We are free to define what “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” means to us on our journey, and to surround ourselves with those neighbors who are on the same frequency as the lives, liberties and happiness which fulfill us.