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How My Truth Changed the Game

Language is everything. It's our reality's paintbrush, a mighty force with the power to shape perceptions, touch lives, and craft the narratives we tell ourselves. A pivotal shift has occurred over the past decade or so, altering our interactions and understanding of the world. From casual dinner table chatter to global political debates, a critical concept seems to have slipped our collective consciousness: the essence of holding an opinion. We've traded this well-understood notion—a personal belief that can influence or even be adopted by others—for something else. It's rare nowadays to hear "In my opinion," a phrase once commonplace. Instead, "my truth" pervades discussions, often where universal facts are absent. Did anyone’s stomach tighten at the implication that “my truth” and “my opinion” are synonymous? Mine certainly did. To be clear, in no way am I suggesting that it is correct or even safe to equate the two phrases. The problem is, many people have already done so, and this has created a huge problem in our social and societal discourse. So, how did saying, “my truth” even enter into today’s pop-culture lexicon and why did “my opinion” fade away?

Well, in my opinion, a few things happened. Our pre-Millennial forefathers had little flexibility to be anything but rule followers. Of course there were always the, rightfully-so, righteous rebels who stood up against a variety of ways-of-being that didn’t make sense. But when it came to the English language - everyone agreed that there were rules to follow… at least written ones. As a kid, I remember being told that subsequent to Generation X we’d be called Generation Y - not because it alphabetically made sense, but because we were always challenging the status quo. We knew something was amiss in the society we were born into. We saw our parents, preachers, and politicians doing and saying things that didn’t make sense to us, so of course we’d ask, “Why?” “Because I said so,'' or “that’s just how it’s done,” became intolerable. We wanted answers, authenticity, and words that fit emotionally charged contexts appropriately. This millennial challenge and questioning led to a paradigm shift in more ways than one, but particularly with language.

Phrases like "let’s agree to disagree" once gracefully acknowledged differing opinions, but it tended to gloss over the fact that some opinions are deeply rooted in personal truths—immutable lived experiences. With “opinion” ruling the realm of personal perspective and individual experience, a personal recount of a factual occurrence could be dismissed as a mere opinion by anyone who simply wanted to disbelieve the individual’s first-hand testimony. “My truth” countered this disturbing objection by introducing language that was much harder to casually disregard - because how can one disagree with the truth? When something happens to you in which you are the eye-witness - there are no ifs, ands, or buts around the experience you just endured. “My truth” gave appropriate weight to these facts-based, individual experiences. Until the introduction of this inarguable phrase, anything was up-for-grabs as a matter of opinion, and thus the power of “my truth” became evident. But of course, people will always find ways to abuse power.

Today, we're entangled in a complex weave of indisputable facts, personal (my) truths, and opinions, struggling to differentiate between them. In our social and political arenas, some have manipulated the power of declaring "my truth," using it to fuel societal standoffs and emotional tug-of-wars. The old strategy of expressing a strong opinion, stepping back, reassessing, and returning to discussions seems almost forgotten. Yet, recognizing the difference between these declarations is crucial.

  • Opinions are born from the interplay of concrete facts and individual experiences. Accepting an opinion means acknowledging that its underlying facts and personal contexts resonate with an individual. To disagree with an opinion doesn’t invalidate the facts and experiences the opinion is based on. Crucially, opinions are flexible and can shift over time.

  • Personal truths emerge from how we emotionally process our experiences. When we acknowledge someone's personal truth, it's an act of empathy and validation. Conversely, to dismiss someone's personal truth is to challenge their perception of reality, an act often seen as gaslighting. Such dismissal can shake the foundations of one's identity and sense of security.

  • Facts are universally recognized truths, born from shared experiences and logical understanding. To disregard a fact is to indulge in fantasy. Denial of facts creates a divergence from our collective grasp of reality. Recognizing and embracing a fact, however, strengthens our common language and shared understanding, and fortifies the bedrock of our collective knowledge.

Words have weight. We receive them mentally and carry them emotionally. We experience our reactions to powerful words in our physical bodies. And we’ve been wildly swinging them around like clubs, bruising and breaking critical connections in our shared reality. The embodiment of this chaos is reflected in the social and political affiliations we’ve forged based on opinions that have been misconstrued and absorbed as truths. To some significant degree, we’ve become blindly tribal. Changing an opinion and diverging from a group doesn’t mean we forsake our inner truths or the universal facts that shape them. Nor does aligning with a group imply that we must surrender our personal truths or ignore established facts. Every one of us holds distinct perspectives, contributing to the rich variety of human thought and experience. This richness has become obscured. Everyday disagreements have turned into grand existential debates. More often than not, these disagreements are merely matters of opinion - not the existential threats that they have been reframed to become.

To clarify, I am not suggesting that anyone assign a positive or negative judgment to the use of “my truth”. I am also not suggesting that certain viewpoints or opinions held by masses or people in power don’t create existential threats. My intention is to shed light on a seemingly lost piece of language (an opinion) that more accurately allows for malleability and detachment from our often opinion-based thought experiments. For better or worse, our ideas expressed through language do indeed shape the shared reality of this complex world - a world infused with a great diversity of opinions that are often now masqueraded as truths.  

So, what do we do? First and simply, whether you’re in the position of speaker or listener, start to become more aware of what information is discernibly concrete vs. malleable. To do so effectively, there's an equally important inward journey to explore. As our outer world grapples with these blurred lines, how much of this confusion and misconception has seeped into our inner selves? How many truths have we dismissed as opinions? How many opinions have we unconsciously adopted as truths? It's time to reflect on the actions, habits, and thought patterns that have taken root within us based on the opinions of others. Have they created a fog, obscured our vision, or prevented us from living in alignment with our authentic selves and personal values? The challenge is not just to discern fact, personal truth, and opinion in the world around us, but also within ourselves. We must untangle the mess of notions within us by realigning with our personal values and truths, embracing universal facts, and considering useful opinions that bring clarity to our inner landscape. Then, and only then can we truly begin to bridge the gaps of connection in our shared reality, bringing us closer together instead of continuing to spiral apart.

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