I took this photo.
Admiring the fall air, I turned the corner to find a bright green spot on the sidewalk. I knelt down and put my phone in line with the pavement. My little subject came closer, not farther, curious what we were about to do. Several taps later, I’d like to introduce you to Les.
Les sees the world from an entirely different point of view than I do. This likely results in entirely different perspectives.
Les thinks I am very tall. Possibly intimidating. I think Les is beautiful, and huge! (Though an accidental squishing, from a less attentive passers by, is my main fear for Les.)
We have an entirely different perspective about the world that we share.
Our points of view expose us to entirely different scenarios on a daily basis.
Les thinks I am very tall. The truth is that I am 5’4”, making me taller than my mother-in-law, the same height as Busia, and shorter than my mother. So am I tall? I suppose it depends whether there is an empirical definition of the word tall. Les will think that Elsie, who just turned two years old, is tall. But an ant walking down this same sidewalk will think Les is a giant. Your point of view can shape your perspective.
But is your perspective the truth?
Les may also find me intimidating. (It wouldn’t be the first time someone thought that about me, which I still find to be humorous.) The word showed up on performance reviews of mine at various points in my career. As the girl who always took the lead on group projects, was the first to jump in to break the silence, and spoke my opinions with conviction (whose tone could imply they were facts), I get it in a sense. As a loud talker and a fast talker, it used to be a lot harder to interrupt me and get a word in.
But I was also often asked to be a mentor, to lead a meeting, to go to the conference, to speak from the stage, or to be the narrator of the training video. None of which are typically roles given to the perpetually intimidating, lest you want to reward and encourage our behavior.
So which of these perspectives is true?
Les doesn’t know any of those things about me. Les sees that I am imposing and unfamiliar, compared to the other bugs Les typically encounters in a day. Our definition of tall or intimidating is not the same. Neither is our definition of far (a mile for Les and a mile for me will not take the same amount of time).
Is a mile far? Am I tall? Am I intimidating? Are you?
Words are important and either enhance or obstruct our ability to communicate. When we agree on the definition of a word, we can have a discussion and understand each other, even if we don’t come to the same conclusion.
- I have a point of view. To always call my point of view, truth, dilutes the word truth.
- I have a perspective. To always call my perspective, truth, dilutes the word truth.
- I have an opinion. To always call my opinions, truth, dilutes the word truth.
Is it possible that my point of view, perspective or opinion is also the truth? Sure. Sometimes. But not every time. And not for all of us, every time, That is why there are different words… like point of view, perspective, opinion, and truth.
Your Point of View is Valuable
Your point of view is valuable. Your perspective is valuable. Your opinion is valuable. The way that you experience the world is important to know and learn and understand. Just as it is for everyone else.
But truth is different. The truth is that I am 5’4”. From Les’ perspective I am tall. Les’ perspective is valuable. It informs how Les responds to me, and whether fear or curiosity is more appropriate.
When we define truth, we can have more honest conversation about how to address and resolve hard things. (And if we understand that we’re not operating from the same definition, then we’ll better understand why we can’t seem to resolve hard things.)
But when we redefine our perspective or opinion as truth, and call it truth, we create barriers to communication. We create barriers to new relationships. We create factions, followings, and isolate ourselves from other perspectives. Which is ironic because we hope that in seeking out similar perspectives we’ll find community and reduce division. But the very wall we’re trying to tear down ends up being a wall of intolerance we unintentionally build up.
Surrounding ourselves with the same perspectives so much, that we believe our perspective is the truth, may mean we can no longer appreciate someone else’s point of view, and can no longer accurately define truth.
I don’t want to stop thinking about the world that Les experiences. Though we share the same Earth with the same rules of gravity, orbit, and light… we experience it entirely different. And I can and should learn from that.
I should learn about the point of view and perspectives of Les. Learning about Les’ perspective is love. But learning Les’ perspective does not redefine truth. And not affirming Les’ perspective as empirical truth, doesn’t mean that I don’t care about Les. (Or else I wouldn’t have knelt down to the sidewalk in the first place to try and understand.)
- God created Les. God created me. God created the world we both occupy. That is the truth.
- My purpose is to love God. My purpose is to love others. That is the truth.
God created the world we all occupy. He created the science we continually discover and depend on for understanding. He creates and sustains all life. He defines love and truth. Because if He created everything, he created love and truth, too.
And just as the artist (a creator) gets to define their art, God as the creator gets to define His creations, too. Even if I don’t always like it, or understand it, or know what to do with it because my feelings don’t line up… it doesn’t mean I have the ability to change it. It doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
I can choose to ignore it, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
Spending almost 2 years reading the Bible cover to cover, I am reminded continually. I am not the Creator. I choose to respect that, regardless of how I feel.
Loving me does not mean you (or Les) must see my perspective as truth. If I don’t think I am intimidating, Les is not required to view me as un-intimidating and now approachable. Les’ failure to do so does not mean Les is being unloving and disrespectful.
Loving you (or Les) does not mean I must see your perspective as truth. If I don’t change my opinion to see myself as tall, simply because Les feels I am tall, it does not mean I do not love or respect Les.
- Disagreeing with my conclusion does not mean you don’t love me.
- Disagreeing with your conclusion does not mean I don’t love you.
The world doesn’t want you to grant me space for that. But I want to grant that space to you. If you don’t agree with me, I don’t think that you hate me, or wish ill of me, or don’t love me. Your choice to engage at all, displays your care and concern at maximum volume.
Subjective vs. Objective
After writing this blog post, I serendipitously watched a really good podcast, intended to help children understand the difference between the words objective and subjective. I stumbled onto several points that highlight what I’ve been clumsily attempting to communicate.
It is an objective fact that I am 5 foot 4 inches tall. It is a subjective perspective that I am tall from Les’ point of view, and short from Luke’s point of view (he’s 6’7”).
The podcast challenged its audience to define the words truth and love. To really define them.
To ask your significant other, your parents or your kids for the definition of these words.
To see how the Bible defines these words.
To write it all out.
The view you have of the world, and of others, and their actions (or inactions) is likely shaped by how you define these words. For you, truth is either (1) objective, unmoving, and factually static for everyone or (2) subjective, fluid, different for everyone, and not something to be anchored to.
After you reflect. After you consider. After you ask those in your circle with sincere curiosity… write down the definition of truth. Write down the definition of love. And come back.
Truth and Directions
From central Illinois, if you go north on I-55 you will get to Chicago. If you go south you will get to St. Louis. Wanting the results to be different, or disliking either city, does not mean your destination will change, unless you change directions.
If I don’t have enough gas in my car, I will not get to either destination. Perceiving that either destination is “not that far” will not impact how my car consumes the gas I filled it with (or the fact that it needs gas at all).
I know we’re not cars. But to assume that there is no objective truth associated with our lives, is equally as detrimental as wishing your car will be “fine” if you ignore the directions and trust feelings instead of truth.
There is one God who created the universe and sustains it. Intelligent design is not fantasy. There is scientific backing for the intricacies of us as human beings, of the earth we live on, and it’s perfect distance from the sun to sustain life. The series of random events required to bring us to this moment are so improbable, that randomness becomes an unreasonable explanation. An intelligent designer created all that we see and all that we do not see. He defines how things work, and what they are.
My feelings do not change the truth. They may change my perspective in that particular moment, but my perspective is subjective, and truth is objective.
Choose your words wisely.
Know the definition of those words.
Be curious about the perspectives and points of view of others. if you can’t experience the world from their vantage point, ask about it, and be sincere.
And in the end anchor yourself to the truth. To use another biblical analogy, be rooted in the truth. With deep roots you can withstand storms and changing winds. You can stand firm despite temptations, chaos and changing opinions or feelings.
Love doesn’t have to agree to be love. But it does need to show up. To listen. To care.