The Fiction of Facts

We have all seen images like the one above, showing how the same object looks different from different perspectives. Most of us understand and appreciate this concept to some extent, but when push comes to shove, we still believe that our own point of view is the most correct. Life constantly asks us to make judgments and decisions based on the facts at hand, but what we forget is that most of these so-called facts are relative. There is rarely anything that’s universally right or wrong and that no two points of view will ever be exactly the same.

It’s all About Perspective!

I was an attorney for an insurance company for many years. One of my areas of practice was defense litigation. My company sold insurance plans to companies wishing to provide health insurance for their employees.

One type of plan that a company could purchase was a self-funded plan. A self-funded is basically a catastrophic coverage plan. It has a lower premium because the company “self-funds” employee claims up to a certain dollar amount. Once a certain threshold is reached, full coverage kicks in and the plan becomes fully-funded.

Companies would purchase this plan and then immediately sue the insurance company for failure to pay claims. The insurance company was not wrong. It was not supposed to pay claims until the deductible was met. But the company buying the insurance was not wrong either. The company had simply “heard” the terms of the plan differently and didn’t understand what it was buying.

We Only Hear that which Supports our Beliefs

As humans, we know certain facts to be true and we judge everything according to these truths. When we believe something to be true we look for information that supports that belief.

Information that runs counter to what we already know is dismissed as an anomaly. We know the world is round. If we find evidence that the world is flat, we automatically dismiss it. We do not try to assimilate it or change our belief that the world is round.

In my insurance example, both parties automatically filtered out information that didn’t make sense with what they already knew and they looked for information that supported what they already knew.

The company buying insurance might only hear what the agent was saying regarding insurance payments after the deductibles was met and the part about paying all of its own claims up until the deductible was met wasn’t heard because didn’t fit within the schema of what an insurance plan looked like.

Similarly, the agent selling the plan only heard questions in terms of his understanding and could not really “hear” what the company was asking because both parties assigned different definitions to the same language.

The agent was not trying to conceal the terms of the plan. The company wasn’t trying to have the insurance company provide more than what was purchased. Quite simply, both parties were working from their own perspective.

The agent couldn’t see the company’s point of view and the company couldn’t see the agent’s point of view. The result was that two parties would come together and form a contact based on their own experiences and assumptions, without ever seeing things from the others perspective. Neither party was wrong. In fact, they were both right!

Relativism and Truth

Although we understand this intellectually, our world is very black and white and we are routinely called upon to make judgments and decisions based on the facts. This hit home for me this month, when my parents called me from Australia to wish me a happy birthday. They called me on my birthday, but it wasn’t my birthday!

Well, it was in Australia but in Colorado it was the day before my birthday! I could have argued with them until I was blue in the face that they called me on the wrong day and they could have argued that they called me on the right day. We both would have been firmly convinced that we were right and could have pointed to concrete facts that fully supported our arguments. We were both right and wrong, but the facts were relative.

Our challenge is to move from an intellectual understanding of this to a fully integrated practice of this in our daily life. All reality truly is relative, and letting go of our need to assert our own reality awakens us to the infinite other realities that are out there for us to enjoy.

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