Posted by: Ken Homer | April 7, 2008

More Thots on Truth

Well my last post has brought forth some interesting comments about truth…

When I wrote it I had no intention of putting myself up as an expert on truth – I am not. 

Nor was I seeking to engage in debates about which truth is “The Truth.”

Much of the bloodier side of human history bears testament to the failed attempts on the part of those who are so unshakeable in their beliefs about what is ‘Truth” that they ignore what is Truth for others, or worse, try to impose their Truth upon them. 

Nor do I claim to hold some truth that will set the world to rights.  I’m just an ordinary guy –  struggling with making a living, paying bills, making mistakes, moved to do something worthwhile with my life while trying to make some meaning in a world seemingly  gone mad – pretty much like most other folks I know.

I mean no offense to the thoughtful readers who posted comments – I am very grateful to know that people other than my wife and my best friend are reading this blog – but, I think that conversations about the nature of truth – interesting though they may be – have limited utility in creating a viable future. 

What I am seeking in leading sustainable conversations is not truth…

It is usefulness and self-organizing Intelligence.

I am after the kind of usefulness that brings forth a greater level of intelligence capable of organizing human behavior at the scale of 6.5 billion people.

I am after the kind of self-organizing intelligence that can restore ecosystem health, transform economies of consumption into flows of nourishment and create the food, shelter, housing and educational infrastructures necessary to ensure that 10,000 or 100,000 or 1,000,000 years from now people are still experiencing the joy of loving, the wonder of the stars, and the mystery of birth.

I am totally overwhelmed by and inadequate to this task.

I have maybe two or three good ideas. And I hope that when joined with the two or three good ideas that you have, and with the two or three good ideas that someone else has, and someone after that and all the someones in a whole bunch of other people our multitude of good ideas will somehow be enough to see us through.

So my first good idea is usefulness – I’ll leave you to be the judge of how good and useful it is.

Usefulness in my experience comes from observing, hypothesizing, testing, reflecting, refining, and – sometimes abandoning my approach when it becomes clear the futility outweighs the utility.  

It has been my observation that posing questions about the nature of truth tends to divide and polarize people more than it tends to unite them.

It has also been my observation that posing questions that invite people to share what is true for them, tends to build understanding and relationships that can support productive work toward a mutually desired future.

My working hypothesis, springing from these observations, is that it is more useful to frame questions around how life actually is for people, rather than how it is supposed to be based on some idea of the truth that will almost always result in an argument.

Framing questions in this manner, in my experience, has been an effective way to build shared understanding, which is not the same thing as shared agreement.

This has been borne out for me in working with large groups on numerous occasions.

I’ve also observed that the question “What is true?“, is, in most people’s minds as far as I can tell, so intimately connected to the question of “What is real?“, as to be nearly interchangable.

Any police officer who has interviewed several witnesses to the same traffic accident can tell you, what was real for each witness will differ – sometimes substantially – from the other accounts.

What is useful about the fact that people witnessing a relatively simple physical event occurring in realtime before them will disagree as to what is the truth of the event?

What insights into the nature of “what is real” can be gleaned from this verifiable observation?

And how can those insights serve us in making the world a little more sustainable?  

A little more hospitable?

A little more friendly?

A little more of a place where it is safe and welcoming for babies to be born and for old people to die in peace and dignity?

What light of usefulness can the ideas of truth shed on those questions?

And how might we apply those lessons in shaping the world towards those ends?



  1. It seems to me that we humans owe our phenomenal success as a species to first being social (working together) and second being smart (applying what we learn about our world toward generally improving our lot). When we make a personal decision to either do a thing or not perhaps we could ask the question, will this action have a beneficial effect? To me alone, or to those around me? Why?

    Of course oftentimes the questions are not that easy (should I save electricity by using a compact fluorecent bulb with mercury in it? should I consume gasoline and contribute to greenhouse emissions so I can buy food for my family?) but if the real impact of what our decision means is taken into account, and we follow a socially conscious path, we can chip away at the monumental tasks that we have before us.

    And, many times the questions are not complex at all: Is what I am about to do civil?

  2. Welcome to my blog old friend, good to see you here.

    Let us keep chipping away together.

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