If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked to decide whose truth is the right one in a mediation session I would be a rich woman indeed (although a frustrated one who did not derive much job satisfaction). It is a subject that animates, frustrates and generates huge debate on an hourly basis. Whose truth is the right one? The problem with this premise as a starting point is that it look at things from their perspective of there being a universal truth that should be accepted on any particular matter. In my experience this is problematic indeed and hence this blog formed in my mind on a walk out in the country mid way through a working day.
We all have different things that we consider to be the truth. If we start this thought process quite simply then I can say that my truth is that mushrooms are a horrible food. Their texture is disgusting and their taste is unpleasant. But yet your truth may be that mushrooms are the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted. I might say that Marvel films are wonderful escapism and great action. You may see them as having poor story lines and being lacking in a certain depth of character.
We all have different things that are true to us and so represent truths we hold about ourselves and about the world around us, but they will not necessarily be truths for other people.
If we extend this further we may look at a situation where there has been a bank robbery. There are three witnesses that the police will question. Each witness has a different view on what the perpetrators looked like and what the getaway car was, or looked like. Each witness also has a different perspective from which they viewed the robbery. The first witness was in an office building which looks down on the bank. She had been stressed out all morning owing to work pressures and just happen to spend a minute by the window and this was when those involved in the robbery came out of the bank with guns and got in the car.
The second witness was very chilled out as he had just been to an exercise class and popped into the supermarket on the high street before going home to work. He was queuing for the tills by the window and witnessed the three criminals run out of the bank and shout and then jump into their car.
The third witness works at the bank and was in the lobby when the robbery happened. She saw them come in and reveal their guns and heard the deafening roar of their shouts. She saw the whole robbery and was genuinely in fear that she was going to be shot. She will be signed off work for 6 months following today and will not be able to return to work until she has had treatment for PTSD.
Each witness had their own things happening up until the moment they witnessed the robbery, and after that. At the point of the robbery their experiences were shared in having witnessed the same event, and having to give a statement to the police. When they witnessed the event that day they didn’t become different people, or objective robot observers, they were all still dealing with the baggage of the day, had their own life experiences through which they witnessed the robbery and their accounts each represent what was the truth to them.
If we then shift the lens to looking at what happens when a couple separate it is fairly common that they might discuss experiences of events either between themselves, in mediation, through lawyers or in court. They may each have very different accounts of things that happened – even though they were both present at the same events. They may each become frustrated, angry and upset with the other person for presenting a distortion of the truth of the event.
We all have perspectives on what has happened to us and two people’s experience of the same relationship can be markedly different. We have things that have wounded us; things that have light us up; things that have nourished and nurtured us; things that made us feel rejected; and things that made us feel invalid, or wrong.
We can even expand this idea further to look at bigger ideas or concepts. At one point there was an almost universal belief that the earth was flat which we now know is not true. Even in our modern society there are those that accept ideas of evolution as true, and notions that were first advanced by Darwin in his Theory of Evolution in 1859 as accepted fact. Yet there are those that don’t and dispute the whole idea of the evolution of the species. There are countless other examples of areas where science plays out against religion, or economics against politics. Vaccinations seem to have become a hot topic of COVID times and each person will take their view on these as a universal truth despite the fact that many may see it as only their truth – or a truth shared by some people.
We may look at whether there should be an obligation on any person to re-consider truths they hold in the light of evidence that may show things to the contrary. If a witness insists it was a green car and a CCTV video shows it to be a blue car they may be invited to reconsider what they thought to be the truth. Debates rumble all over the world with people inviting others to reconsider their truths in light of what they see as compelling evidence to the contrary. Some do, and some don’t. It can be a useful question to ask yourself as to what evidence might convince you that truths are not the truths you thought they were. To use a simple example, if Angela Hartnett cooks me the most incredible mushroom risotto and I love it, might I have to re-consider whether I truly do dislike mushrooms?
In a dispute between a separating couple I am never sure that it is helpful to start to pick apart what each person considers to be a truth. There may be situations where one person needs to see there is evidence that contradicts their truth e.g if they consider the other person to not be a fit parent and yet there is clear evidence to the contrary. Or where one person things the other is hiding money but statements or accounts show otherwise. But mainly where those truths we hold relate to things that happened, and how we felt, it is rarely useful to try to convince each other that my truth should be your truth. This holds the dangerous connotation that one person’s truth should be worth more than another’s. Granted there are situations where this should be the case. If we are concerned that there might be a severe earthquake here in Surrey then it would be far better to listen to the truth presented by a seismologist rather than me after I’ve spent 30 minutes on Google or Facebook.
But such discussions in a separation about whether one partner’s feelings or perspectives are more valid than the other is unlikely to lead to resolution and healing, and ultimately the point of bringing a separating couple together to talk about what happens next (in whatever way) is to find a resolution that will hopefully benefit them – and which will crucially benefit their children. In this situation it is far more helpful to accept each person’s truth as valid. To see and acknowledge someone else’s truth as their truth is incredibly powerful. To simply listen (without distraction) and acknowledge is a power that is repeatedly underestimated.
Understanding each other’s perspectives and feelings is huge. Understanding what pushes each other’s buttons, as well as what causes each other to withdraw brings a new more universal truth to both parties. It creates an understanding of the relationship between them and how this might change (or evolve) going forwards as they no longer live together as loving partners, but work together as co-parents to bring up their children.