I hesitate to try to write a blog with such a huge title. Endless books have been written on the topic. Let alone all the blogs, pub discussions and wars that have occurred as a consequence of this question. I want to think about truth in a clinical setting rather than a religious or philosophical one-although I may stray in to these areas. I want to link two things that came up this weekend.The first was that a friend tweeted me warning me not to watch a particular film because it suggested that truth was relative.The second was a mini sermon from somebody at church giving his view of the “real” story of the Feeding of the 5000. I don’t have a particular view about this story. But his suggestion that this is simply a story about the value of good organisation left me unmoved. (It felt like all the magic had been taken out of the story. What was left were the dead facts.Neatly laid out. But nonetheless dead.) But I confess to being one who happily believes that somewhere in a hidden valley somewhere unicorns exist. And that dwarves, elves, fairies etc probably did live here-albeit a very long time ago. In a kinder age where they were appreciated and valued. So whilst I don’t know what happened to the 5000 I want to see the story as being about more than good organisation.
The film my friend was warning me about was one in which a number of witnesses give differing accounts of an accident they have seen. The problem seems to be that they all saw something different. They were all telling their truth. The word true -and its derivatives- has some interesting roots. It carries with it the idea of a truce. That there is an agreement between the story told and the facts. It also has connections with hard; strong; firm. All a long way from our contemporary Post modern understanding. In clinical work one tries to find a balance between “facts” and “telling”. One searches for meaning as much as facts. (Which is the problem with the current trial of several celebrities on charges of sexual harassment and abuse more that 30 years ago.How do the victims prove their case? How do the men charged prove their innocence?) In counselling, we try to make a truce between hard facts-something happened. And soft facts-I don’t know why it happened.
I have had a number of patients who have come with problems with Anger. Their stories are similar in one regard. They always explode when they feel their partner is trying to belittle them. (Their partner seems to be doing something different. Trying to stop their partner from drinking too much. Or spending too much time out with his friends at the cost of family life. Or simply telling him that dinner is ready.) The “truth” differs depending on who is telling the story. Sometimes one has to stand back from a story and think about the details. Could this have happened in the time frame the patient is suggesting? Is it physically possible that the event could have happened as described? As a counsellor my task is not to find the Truth, the Whole Truth and nothing but the Truth. My task is to try to understand meaning. What does it mean that my patient tells me they are an innocent victim of domestic violence? What might it mean when I am told that my patient had an affair because his wife had got fat? Truth and meaning are not always the same thing. Which can make the work difficult at times. Counselling is not a law court where guilt and innocence are sought. As a counsellor I try to understand what it is my patient is conveying when they tell me a story. Rather like the Feeding of the 5000. There is no single meaning to the story. It may be a miracle-pure and simple. God did something astounding that day. Or it might be a story about good organisational skills. Or some other meaning. The danger comes when an orthodoxy imposes a given meaning to a story. (And orthodoxies can be internal as much as external!)