Seeking Truth in an Onslaught of Information

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

A friend of mine ends each of her emails with the reminder from American economist and political scientist Herbert Simon, that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Simon died in 2001, but he seems to have described our current world exceptionally well.

Today in my local Zen group, we discussed the 4th precept, that of avoiding false speech. How are we to see, let alone speak, the truth in a world so overflowing with information?

Our reading, drawn from Waking up to What you Do by Diane Eshin Rizzetto, offered thoughtful advice on the topic, as well as some challenges for the reader. What do you tell a child who asks if you will be there for them as a parent in the years to come? Maybe? Yes, of course? We’ll see? What about to a spouse? Can we really know that we will love our partner until the end of our lives? Can we really know that we’ll love them tomorrow?

An unreflective YES might spring to mind. But, as with so much that we feel certain about, when we think more deeply we might see that we don’t know as much as we thought we did. It was mentioned that a good translation for the Sanskrit avidya (usually given in English as “ignorance”) could be “illusory certainty.” Our greatest ignorance is when we think we know something that we do not.

Reflecting on these questions a little further, therefore, and the difficulty of telling the truth, it became clear that settling into our uncertainty is the surest way to avoid untruths.

My wife and I are moving to Hong Kong soon. Moving from our comfortable life and friends in Seattle brings with it worlds of uncertainty.

Should we tell one another that it’ll be perfect? That it’ll be great? That we’ll be able to do all that we ever wanted? Or, perhaps we should speak the simple truth that we are going to do our best. We know a bit about the city and surrounding mountains and beaches. We know were we’ll live (in a surprisingly remote and rural area) and how easy it is to get to a quiet beach from there, and how difficult it is to get to a grocery store.

But we don’t know that it’ll be perfect, or even great, certainly not that it’ll be all that we ever wanted. We know that we’ll do our best. And we’ll see. We will settle in to our uncertainty and we will do the best that we can.

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