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2010 Spring Issue 7 (May 21, 2010)

Diverging truths

May 21, 2010
By David Heifetz

Sometimes I wonder how we can expect what we expect of our politicians. It’s not necessarily that we expect too much; it’s that we expect the wrong things. We want to be part of an empathetic and caring culture, but we seem to expect our politicians to express views contrary to such a culture.

And then, there’s the small matter of trust. Or mistrust as the case may be. “Politicians are liars,” I’ve heard us say. “They never tell the truth; all they want is to save their jobs.”

What tools.

“Tell it like it is!” We say to them. But truth, or at least interpretations of “the truth” are relative, something for which we each have our own variation.

Conservatives are selfish, until you work long days sacrificing time with your family and then have to write a check for 40% of your earnings. Liberals are naïve flakes, until you lose your job and your health care and are suddenly 50 with high cholesterol. Blacks are unreasonably angry -- no one alive has ever been a slave; you think this until you’ve been slammed spread eagle on the pavement just for being another color. Jews and those horrible Zionists just use the Holocaust as an excuse. Stop living in a past you never experienced! You think this until you see a swastika graffitied on a street and the scratches of human fingernails on the walls of a cement chamber, colored by the stains of Zyclon-B gas. But then you remember the past is all too present, history all too real. And of course, white people are just ungrateful racists, until you’ve been passed over for a job or school admission because of something called affirmative action, even though you’ve worked excruciatingly hard for the nod. You feel punished for the crimes and bigotry of people you’ve never met, of people in another time. Maybe those whiners have a reason to feel the way they do.

There are times when I wish politicians would just say it like it is and put those false victimizers in their places.

But then I think about how I would feel if my victim’s narrative were the one being called out, if what I believed to be true was suddenly being called false. See, the truth is, we all want the truth, unless it challenges the way we understand things.

In my more diplomatic moments, which are more rare than I would like, I say I don’t like to judge or criticize authority figures because they have more information than I do; it wouldn’t be fair.

Blaming authority is too easy.

You’re entitled to your own opinion, not your own facts. But we all have different realities, almost unfathomable to one another. And each reality produces different truths, or slices of truth, about the same issues; each truth is shaped by our various assumptions.

One of the problems with our political system is that way too often, we have little or no understanding of one another, no acceptance of each other’s differing realities and truths. We demonize those who disagree with us, not understanding the reality and humanity behind those contrasting feelings.

Politicians’ jobs are to represent us, this collection of clashing facts and contradictory assumptions. No wonder it feels like we aren’t hearing the whole story.

It isn’t that politicians lie, it’s that they represent a collective with very little convergence. If we want a saner and more honest politics, we need to be honest with ourselves. That starts with questioning our own assumptions and truths, and seeing the truth in someone else’s point of view, even if it renders our view terribly incomplete.

-David Heifetz is a Carletoniancolumnist

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