by Jean-Claude Koven
Back in 1992, Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise co-starred in a movie entitled A Few Good Men. The high point of the film, in my view, was a classic, heated exchange between their characters, during which Kaffee (the military attorney played by Cruise) says: “I want the truth,” and Col. Jessup (Nicholson) responds: “You can’t handle the truth.”
The movie makes Jessup the villain. That’s not surprising in a courtroom drama that’s based on finding the truth in order to separate right from wrong. But the screenwriters could just have easily turned it all around. If Jessup were editing the script, he would have become the hero defending the American way of life. Unlike Kaffee, who could only perceive truth through the narrow perspective of precedent case law, he saw the bigger picture. In his view, the rigidity of black-and-white morality needed to be bent into shades of gray to serve the greater good.
The truth that Jessup perceived was well beyond Kaffee’s ability to handle. Kaffee’s view of truth was far too limited to contain the reality of Jessup’s world. However what neither of them could see was that “the truth” simply does not exist. There is no universal, definitive Truth (with a capital “T”). The best each of us can muster is our own version of truth, determined by the point from which we choose to view reality. And our only sin is in believing that others must join us in seeing things as we do.
There have always been those among us who, claiming to speak with the authority of God or on behalf of a totalitarian regime, have advocated their version of Truth. These people – not too different in other ways from the rest of us – became ensnared by the assumed validity of their doctrines. Despite their impressive robes or uniforms and their persuasive pronouncements, they turned out to be little more than bigoted bullies who historically have been astonishingly effective in bending our minds and wills.
Perhaps, the time has come for us to think for ourselves. But how can we when our minds are already made up? Someone has already done all the thinking for us. And we, seeking the blessings of our leaders and the safety of consensus, continually nod in agreement. Besides, we enjoy being part of our larger families and we seem to enjoy the comfort of singing from a common hymnal.
The next time someone asks you for the truth, you might want to think twice before answering. It takes far more courage to venture into the domain of truth than you might realize. It is a never-ending journey into the unknown, requiring that you turn your back on everything familiar and move to places you’ve never dared explore. You leave the solace of certainty far behind as you venture beyond the walls of belief. While part of you is curious, another part would probably rather not take the risk. Eagles concerned about safety nets don’t soar; sadly, they eventually lose their ability to fly altogether.
However, as any eagle will tell you, overcoming the fear of leaping from the nest is the only way to fulfill its destiny. When you finally summon sufficient courage to loosen your grip on the truths you’ve bought into and let go of set beliefs, you will make a remarkable discovery: What you see depends upon where you’re looking from. Every time you change the point from which you view, not only does what you see change, but a new aspect of yourself emerges as well.
You become the eagle circling ever higher on unexpected updrafts, each new turn providing a fresh point from which to view. All the burning issues that seemed so pressing and compelling yesterday fade into obscurity and irrelevance today. New truths reveal themselves in kaleidoscopic succession until you realize that each of these, too, is little more than a temporary resting place. You linger for a while, absorbing the epiphany it offers, and release it in order to move on to the next vista that piques your curiosity.
As your awareness grows, so does your ability to accept multiple realities. You soon come to realize that right and wrong, like Truth, are merely expressions of perception. They appear immutable only to those who refuse to change the points from which they view. If such people are so deeply rooted to their beliefs that they are unwilling to relinquish their vantage points, why should it be surprising that what they see never changes? The only way they can justify their deep-seated fear of change is to preach and find fault with those who are not in agreement. By finding others wanting, they reinforce their own self-righteous perceptions, giving rise to the separation that inevitably finds expression in covert or overt hostility.
This clinging to the idea that there is a universal, definitive truth lies at the core of the difficulties with religions, political systems, financial institutions, ecological movements, the business and corporate world, as well as almost every personal relationship you have ever had. However, where it does its most insidious damage is within the complex mini-world of the individual. When you trade your curiosity for the identity and sense of belonging that comes with adopting the beliefs of those around you, the totality of who you really are becomes overridden by your external persona – the person you now think you are.
In theory, the way out of this dilemma is simple. Albert Einstein encapsulated it in a few words: “No problem can ever be solved at the same level of consciousness that created it.” However, in practice this is far easier said than done. For what is required is for you to summon the courage to break free from your comfort zone – your habitual, ingrained patterning—and soar.
When was the last time you found yourself in a heated argument with someone and suddenly realized that both of you were absolutely correct even though you were in opposite camps? How easy was it for you to disengage from the inevitable he-said/she-said (attack/defend) syndrome and view the interaction from outside the arena of conflict? Once you have actually achieved this breakthrough, you are immediately confronted by an incredibly interesting question: If I am the one arguing, then who is the one watching me argue?
With that extraordinary question, everything in your life is about to shift irrevocably. You are ready to leap into the void in which your tidy world of certainty becomes increasingly fuzzy. The higher you soar, the more right and wrong are seen to be two sides of a möbius strip, blending and disappearing into each other. You now understand truth anew; it is no more than a memorial to a stuck point of view – a roadside marker warning passing motorists to stay alert.
Do you still want the truth? Whatever for, now that you’re among the eagles?
Jean-Claude Koven is a writer and speaker based in Rancho Mirage, CA. He is the author of Going Deeper: How to Make Sense of Your Life When Your Life Makes No Sense, the Allbooks Reviews editor’s choice for the best metaphysical book of 2004. For more information, please visit www.goingdeeper.org.