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Truth or Consequences Pt 2

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Weekly Impact is written for leaders by our former Executive Director, Garth Jestley, who has decades of experience in senior leadership roles in the financial services sector. Each week he will share insights on life, leadership and faith.

Last week, I noted that avoidance of truth can ultimately have serious adverse consequences and ended with the question, “How certain are you that your worldview is true?” Today, I will consider why many marketplace leaders and others avoid the active pursuit of truth. After all, truth may be defined as that which corresponds to reality and reality has a habit of biting us sooner or later!

Explaining behaviour is the domain of psychology and I am not a psychologist. Caveat aside, I believe one of the biggest reasons people avoid the active pursuit of truth is that they believe there is no such thing as absolute truth (at least in the realm of the humanities).

The elasticity of truth is a relatively new concept. For centuries past, there was general agreement among the learned that objective absolute truth existed. Indeed, the founding principle of many universities was the pursuit of truth not only in the hard sciences but also in the humanities.

Liberated from the notion of absolute truth, many today approach worldviews through the lens of preference. In their minds, they are not avoiding truth. Rather, they are selecting the truth that works best for them. Truth will ultimately hold all of us to account and therefore many select their worldview based upon their perception of the responsibilities it will impose on them (as well as, of course, the personal benefits).

People sometimes even avoid truths that appear to be in their best interest. One of my favourite passages from the Bible describes one of many times Jesus encountered an invalid. The man had been crippled for thirty-eight years. Nonetheless, Jesus asked him, “Would you like to get well?”

At first blush, this seems an absurd question! Surely he wants to get well. Not only that, he knew about Jesus’ reputation for miraculously healing the sick. In fact, Jesus honoured the man’s right to choose his future. While it might seem self-evident that any healing is worth receiving, a successful healing required the cripple to accept responsibility (faith in Jesus’ ability to heal) and potential negative consequences (loss of livelihood as a beggar). In the event, he said yes and Jesus healed him.

To underscore the point that people often choose their worldviews based upon personal utility, I close with the following quote from Thomas Nagel, an academic and atheist. “I want atheism to be true [a preference] and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. (“The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997).

How about you? Do you select “truth” based upon preference or upon “that which aligns with reality”?

Garth Jestley is a husband, father, grandfather, leader and business executive. Most importantly, he is a follower of Jesus Christ.