Why is it that when we have interactions with those who differ significantly from us we find it so hard to have healthy dialogues that result in greater understanding, a more unified perspective, and an increased love and respect for one another? I believe the answer lies, to a great degree, in the mysterious dynamics of the “love”-“hate” relationship that are embedded deep within our relationships and interactions.
I’m also convinced that having a fundamental understanding of those dynamics will help to increase our chances of having success in engaging with others toward those positive ends. In this post, I hope to offer some insights concerning the communicating of truth in the midst of polarized, “thorny” engagements, be they cultural, political, religious, or other.
In the previous post, we talked about the prerequisite to communicating truth in such relationships. The first work is to build a platform of love that serves as the unifying base upon which truth can be shared. The measure of the weight of truth that will be able to be shared will be contingent on the strength and stability of that platform. Once this “boardwalk” of love has been substantially built, opportunity may arise to exchange differing viewpoints and values with those we have relationship with upon it. If we do so in the wisdom that comes from an understanding of the “love”-“hate” relationship, I believe we have an improved chance of engaging in such a way as to increase in mutual understanding, unity of perspective, and love/respect for one another.
Our Love-Hate Relationship With Truth
“All lies and jest. Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
Paul Simon, “The Boxer”
Truth is a discerning, dividing force. It separates reality from unreality, fact from fiction, genuine from fake, honesty from lies, and light from darkness. As such, it is consequential in revealing opposing sides, forcing choices, and determining outcomes. When those effects are deemed to work in one’s favor, a “love” relationship with a particular truth tends to develop. When they are deemed to work in opposition to one’s desired ends, a “hate” relationship tends to ensue. Because truth has the potential for both of these outcomes, whenever and however it happens to impact our lives, all of us have a conscious/unconscious “love-hate relationship” with truth.
To dig a little deeper into how that operates within our heart, we should consider what Paul the apostle said in 1 Corinthians 13:13: “Now abide faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.” Faith, hope, and love are the three primary functions of the human “heart.” When they come into contact with and consideration of a certain “truth”, they each pose a different question.
- Faith asks, “To what degree is this proposition/fact inherently true and, therefore, worthy to be believed and trusted?”
- Hope asks, “How will this proposition/fact create positive or negative effects in my world?”
- Love, the greatest of these, assesses the conclusions of Faith and Hope and further asks, “In relation to other existing “loves” and “hates”, is this worthy of being esteemed, embraced, invested into, and possibly sacrificed for?”
Therefore, whenever any proposition or fact is presented to the human heart, it is assessed by these three operations of faith, hope, and love to determine the following values:
- Inherent value – in relation to its veracity on its own terms.
- Effectual value – in relation to its consequences and outcomes.
- Affectional value – in relation to its combined inherent/effectual values and their positive/negative effects upon existing “loves” and “hates.”
All of this transpires at both the conscious and subconscious, deliberate and involuntary, levels of the human heart. This complex, algorithmic-like processing is ultimately what determines the truths we believe, embrace, and invest ourselves into and those we reject and distance ourselves from.
Two Views of Truth
“What is truth?”
When interacting with others, we should be aware that “truth” does not mean the same thing to all people and, subsequently, is often evaluated quite differently by others than what we might assume or expect.
For simplicity’s sake, we can boil down people’s views into two main categories: those who primarily view truth as source and those who primarily view truth as means to an end.
- Source – Those who primarily view truth as source see it as existing objectively outside of themselves and informing all of life. It is highly esteemed for its inherent value as it is believed to represent reality as it actually is. It is, likewise, highly esteemed for its effectual value for it is believed that all of life operates according to the wisdom, principles, and laws that are embedded in reality (truth) as it actually is. Its combined affectional value, therefore, tends to be exceedingly high. Furthermore, for those who believe the Source of Truth to be the infinite God, these values become transcendent even to the point of absolute.
- Means to an end – Those who primarily view truth as means to an end see it ultimately as a tool to create or secure a desired outcome. Those who hold this view generally disregard its objective veracity on its own terms (unless, of course, appealing to that aspect is somehow favorable to obtaining their end.) Therefore, it is viewed as having little to no inherent value, but is esteemed almost entirely for its effectual value. Its ultimate, affectional value is further widely determined by its positive or negative effects on a desired outcome in relation to existing “loves” and “hates.”
Those who ascribe to the philosophy of “pragmatism” preeminently hold this view. The Wikipedia entry for “pragmatism” begins: “Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that considers words and thought as tools and instruments for prediction, problem solving, and action, and rejects the idea that the function of thought is to describe, represent, or mirror reality.” Furthermore, the entry gives what one of its originators proposed as the “pragmatic maxim”: “Consider the practical effects of the objects of your conception. Then, your conception of those effects is the whole of your conception of the object.” In this, we see how the effectual value of a truth accounts for everything to the pragmatist.
Another category of people who primarily view truth as means to an end see it as having a subjective value in the present, especially as it affects their emotions and feeds their pre-existing “confirmation bias.” If a proposition or fact makes them feel good and/or gives them an affirming boost to what they already believe, they accept it on those merits. On the other hand, when their perception of “truth” is rationally challenged by an alternate perspective, the uncomfortable feeling of being intellectually or morally challenged causes them to resist and reject the differing opinion because of its negative emotional impact on them in the moment.
Those who view truth in this way place little to no inherent value on truth but see it almost entirely according to its subjective, immediate, effectual and affectional value. What is loved is emotion and the positive feeling of the affirming of one’s own personal belief (“my truth”.) Its ultimate value, therefore, is determined by how a proposition or fact makes the person feel and aligns with their existing biases.
It’s said by some that we now live in a “post-truth” age or era. “Post-truth” was named by the Oxford Dictionary as the International Word of the Year in 2016 and defined it as: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In this digital, post-modern, instant-gratification, echo-chamber, politically-correct, virtue-signalling, shame-labeling, cancel-culture-age we live in, we see how prevalent this shallow, emotional view of truth is becoming in our world.
When interacting with others, then, we will find we have more effective communication if we understand both our own and the other person’s general paradigm of truth and tailor our expressions, emphases, and explanations to what matters most in their “truth world.” (When talking with a pragmatist, for instance, we may want to focus on outcomes and use thought-provoking questions to lead to logical conclusions. With a “post-truther”, however, we may want to incorporate illustrative stories and real-life examples to connect with their emotions in order to get across particular points.) It seems, many times, people are exchanging “truths” but, in reality, they’re on entirely different pages as to what truth itself is and means, and so they interact in disconnected and even counter-productive ways.
Loving What is True, or “Truing” What is Loved?
“People say they love truth, but in reality they want to believe that which they love is true.”
Those who view truth as source tend to ascribe an exceedingly high inherent value to it so that even when the effectual value of a particular truth may plunge into the negative range, their cumulative, affectional value of that truth still remains positive. For this reason they tend to love what is true (and hate what is false) even when it is not convenient or seemingly advantageous to do so.
Furthermore, when the truth in view is directly or indirectly related to some aspect of morality, they, likewise, tend to adhere to the moral principle associated with that truth, even when it is costly to do so.
Those who primarily view truth as means to an end, however, hold much higher “effectual and affectional values” than “inherent value” concerning it, and are, therefore, more vulnerable to “true” what they love, rather than to love what is true. (They are, likewise, more vulnerable to “false” what they hate, rather than to hate what is false.)
When the truth in view is directly or indirectly related to morality, they have a tendency to flip-flop morally on a particular matter, depending on its outcome, even when it is hypocritical and double-minded to do so. They more readily rationalize that the ends justify the means, and so may have little problem swapping evil for good, wrong for right, and lies for truth.
The prophet Isaiah cried out concerning such people, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20 NIV) This is also why the prophet Jeremiah declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV)
Speaking the “Love” in Truth
“The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.”
Given these complexities of the human heart, how then can we proceed in engaging with others in love and truth so that we may come into increased understanding, a more unified perspective, and a greater love and respect for one another?
I believe the answer can be summed up in a respectful variation of a well known biblical phrase, “speaking the truth in love…” (Ephesians 4:15), by re-wording it slightly to be:
“Speaking the ‘love’ in truth.”
This re-arrangement is made to highlight what I would consider the most important key to keep in mind when engaging with others, especially when it involves polarizing, “thorny” issues: “Lead with love!”
As was shared in Part 4, “In this pursuit of love and truth, love must lead the way.” This is not only true in the overall sense of the relationship, but also in the actual conversations that we have. Love not only is the boardwalk upon which the relationship seeks to be established, it is also the bond that keeps those traveling on it walking together in open-hearted, engaging, and enlightening dialogue.
When speaking the ‘love’ in truth“, we are purposefully leading with and emphasizing love, and what is loved, and then bringing these into the light of truth that they may be seen as they truly are and should be understood. We do not seek to lead with mere truth, for that has the potential of being an immediately dividing force and can set the tone of the conversation as contentious from the beginning.
By leading with love, and what is loved, our conversation will be motivated and marked by esteeming affection, the giving of respect and interest in the other person’s values and perspectives, and an overall drawing/unifying effect. This will increase our chances that the engagement will tend towards unity rather than division, friendliness rather than enmity, and, in the end, the acceptance of shared wisdom and truth rather than the rejection of it.
Applying the Four “Keys“
“To convince someone of the truth, it is not enough to state it,
but rather one must find the path from error to truth.”
If we are to grow in our ability and facility to “speak the ‘love’ in truth”, I believe we will be greatly helped by keeping in mind the four “keys” mentioned in Part 3 of this series (and reiterated in the bulleted review post.) These will help us to discern the different types and layers of “loves” and “hates” that exist so that we can begin to peel them back to get to the most fundamental, “first-generation loves” from which all else springs. This level is where relational unity and personal transformation have the greatest possibility of taking place.
To conclude this post, then, I’d like to give a few practical considerations and suggestions as to how to use these “keys” in order to more effectively “speak the ‘love’ in truth.”
- The objective is to stay focused on what is “loved” by the other person to foster friendly, open relationship and to maximize the possibility of truth being able to be shared and received that relates to what is “loved.”
- Seek to get to the deepest level of what they “love” that comes to bear on the subject, for this is what they ultimately care about. If we can share “friend of my friend” kind of wisdom with them at that level, they will be most likely to believe and receive the truth that we have to share. [See Keys #1 and #4]
- These “first-generation loves” do not always appear on the surface, and so it often takes some wise and considerate discussion, inquiry, and discernment in order to peel back the surface layers to get to the deepest levels of “first-generation loves.” [See Key #3]
- To get to these deepest levels, recognize that some “loves” are simply utilitarian, “friend of my friend” or “enemy of my enemy” kind of “loves” about which they may not ascribe much inherent value to on their own terms (though it may seem that they do.) By asking engaging, conversation-eliciting questions you may be able to uncover the deeper “friends” and “enemies” that lie even closer to their heart. [See Key #2]
- Further recognize that “hates” are the result of what is “hated” having either a “friend of my enemy” or an “enemy of my friend” kind of influence. Seek to discern the difference in the particular case and see if you can uncover the underlying “loves” by asking yourself, “What does this person “love” that they perceive as being threatened by what they ‘hate’?” [See Key #2]
- If you hope to possibly change their mind concerning a particular matter, consider the following:
- By introducing a larger framework that includes additional things that they “love” and “hate” that they may not have considered, you may be able to turn some of their “loves” to “hates” and “hates” to “loves.” This will most readily happen if you can show that what they believe and embrace is actually either an “enemy” of what they more deeply “love”, or a “friend” of what they more deeply “hate” and so possibly trigger a rejection/separation response concerning what they presently value and adhere to. [See Key #2]
- By introducing more credible sources, pointing them to unforeseen outcomes or, showing them the path to unanticipated emotional consequences, whether positive or negative, you may be able to provide additional, “friend”/”enemy” considerations that will cause them to re-calculate their overall “love-hate algorithm” and, as a result, possibly change their mind on a particular point. [See Key #2]
These are just a few ways that the four “Keys” can be employed to engage with others so that by “speaking the ‘love’ in truth” with them we may promote greater understanding, a more unified perspective, and increased love and respect for one another. If in our interactions we can do more than just “state” the truth, but “find the path from error to truth” in this way, while staying focused primarily on what is loved, we will have the greatest possibility of being successful in promoting those positive ends. Having an understanding of the “love”-“hate” dynamics that are embedded deep within our relationships and interactions is the ultimate key to navigating in, through, and across the “briar patch” of “thorny” issues when interacting with those whose perspectives and values differ widely, and, perhaps, even wildly from our own!
~ ~ ~
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more
in knowledge and depth of insight,”
Philippians 2:9 NIV
Other: Pragmatism and the Truth