Truth can change

Photo by Marie Bellando-Mitjans on Unsplash

I love learning. I hate being wrong.

The cognitive dissonance is a struggle, I tell you.

One of the concepts I’m going to keep writing about this year is intellectual humility. It means the ability to admit you’re wrong, but it’s more than a change of opinion – you stood by something you now realise is incorrect. Your truth has changed, but you’re not stubborn about it. You’re willing to openly change your mind in front of others.

Kind of like the ability to safely communicate our anger, I think about this quality a lot because I so admire it in others, and so struggle with it myself. You can tell immediately that those who are intellectually humble care about more important things than “being right”.

It’s one thing to change your mind. But there’s another step after that, if you want to keep learning. How do you look at what you used to think, who you used to be, with kindness and curiosity rather than disdain and embarrassment?

What we used to believe is a window in time to who we were. Rob Bell has a brilliant reframe of how we can look more kindly on our past early on in Episode 48 of The RobCast:

“Puberty worked on you for a while. You went through puberty. You’re not angry with puberty. You might not be happy with some of those pictures, but puberty worked on you for a while and it helped make you into who you are. You can’t reject or deny puberty because you would be rejecting denying a part of your own growth, development and evolution.

I have no doubt any artist or creative looks back at some of their previous work with exasperation, with a prickle of embarrassment, with a roar of laughter – just like how we look at old photos of ourselves. We had to go through that to get to this. And very soon, if we continue to learn, this will become that as our viewpoint changes again.

This idea is also beautifully summarised in Austin Kleon’s little gem of a book, Steal Like an Artist. I’m not looking at the last step, but the second-to-last step.

A wise man once wrote, “Good ideas come from bad ideas, but only if there are enough of them.”

That idea was what you had to make or believe or do, so you can make or believe or do the next thing.

That’s what learning and growing is.

As Rob reminisces later in The RobCast – wouldn’t it be terrible to be stuck in puberty for your whole life? The metaphor works because no-one gets to skip the awkward, pimply, hormone-fuelled years. We don’t blame ourselves for what happened when we went through puberty. They happened, precisely so we could grow and learn and (thankfully) leave them behind.

When I look back at what I’ve written and shared, most of it makes me cringe. I have a habit of shutting that part away and acting like it doesn’t exist. I get embarrassed or defensive, when really, who we were is something to celebrate.

Look at how you’ve changed and grown in the last month. Look at just how well you’ve adapted.  

Just like the dysfunctional job that needs to happen, or the betrayal of a loved one, or saying ‘yes’ one too many times, or being in lockdown during a pandemic – they too can become stepping stones on our journey, with a little perspective. They do not get to be ‘who we are’ indefinitely.

However, those are big things. It might also be an inedible meal we can laugh at instead of dissolving into an argument over, a misjudged word we learn how to apologise for, a thoroughly average blog post that just needs to be published so we can move on.

Only through the pain of creating or doing and then wishing we had known better, do we actually come to know better.

Just as you aren’t born fully mature and knowing everything, you don’t get to start at fully-formed genius. And even better, no-one expects you to be.

There are so many more interesting things to be instead of perfect.  

What we think is true now will change. It’s up to us to notice and adjust accordingly, and it will be easier to adapt and notice our new truth if we’re kind to ourselves in the process.

HT: Tracy K Smith’s chat with Ezra Klein