May 25, 2008

Truth Without Context Is Nonsense

Any truth about a reality is valid only in a given context. In all other contexts it is not likely to make any sense.

There may be many different truths to explain any reality. Each truth makes sense in a particular context, but is normally nonsense in other contexts. Despite all good intentions, we often have serious disagreements regarding reality with others in our personal and professional life. Each person in the disagreement feels that he/she is saying the correct thing (truth), whereas others are talking nonsense. It is important to understand that it is possible that most people in the disagreement are actually speaking the truth; however their truths make sense in different contexts.

This insight became very clear to me recently while playing with my 23 month old toddler. One of her favorite toys is "Piglet" (of Winnie the Pooh fame). It is a stuffed toy made up of soft pink fur. She used to call it "Piggie" till a few days back, however nowadays she is very confused about what it is. We told her it is 'Pink', while trying to teach her colors; we told her it is 'fur' while trying to make her familiar with textures; we told her it is "Piglet", while she was watching "Winnie The Pooh' cartoon; we told her it is a stuffed toy; and we also told her that it is soft and cute.

Each of this is true about her 'Piggie", however if she points at her "Piggie", and asks me what it is without any context, I am at loss of what to say. It is so many different things depending upon the context. It is a Pig, it is the cartoon character Piglet, it is a toy, it is a stuffed toy, it is pink, it is soft and cute, it is fur, etc.

Most of us adults deal with far more complex realities than what my toddler is dealing with. Therefore whenever in disagreement, it is very important to try and understand the context in which each person is talking. Most disagreements would disappear if (a) you could step in the other person's shoes and see their context, and (b) take efforts to make sure that others see your context.

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