Everyone is Wrong

Jonas DoerrOpinions Columnist 

Behind the Minnesota Nice don’t-rock-the-boat you-have-your-way-I’ll-have-mine mindset prevalent here, there lurks something awful. Something dastardly. Something, shall I say, ignominious. 

People disagree.

There. I said it. If you disagree, well, you proved me right. While we might not be so bold as to tell each other face-to-face, sometimes we have dissenting opinions about matters as trivial as the best sports team to essential questions like human rights. Although our only outlet may be the anonymity of Yik Yak, the disagreement is still there.

But is anyone right? Or, just maybe, is no one at all?

Some might say that everyone has their own truth – that whatever one perceives is true to that person, and that there is no universal truth because individuals create their own. They’re wrong, and even if they’re not, it would be better to act like they are.

Truth exists outside of everything human beings can perceive. It is not relative to the individual. Emotions, opinions, and feelings are, but a student perceiving Frost-Your-Owns to be heavenly does not mean the cookies are made of angel wings instead of flour, sugar, and more sugar.

And we wouldn’t want truth to be relative, anyways. If everyone has their own truth, no one has a good reason to tell someone else they are wrong. I would have no reason to tell someone not to spray paint our lovely sign on College Avenue as Gustavus A-doofus College, because although it might seem wrong to me, it could be an amazing social good for them.

I couldn’t even tell them it was funny, because yes, it’s funny to me, but maybe not in their truth. Perhaps in their truth I don’t even think it was funny – my laughter is only the undeserved persecution all vandalizers of signs must endure.

In fact, the lack of universal truths leads to a breakdown of all communication. You can’t say the shoe is black. You can’t say the table is wooden. You can’t say “I’m hungry.”

Instead, you must say, “In my opinion the shoe is black. I perceive the table to be wooden. In my own reality, my stomach is indubitably consumed with morbid pangs of craving.”

Anyone could reply, “In my opinion, you’re not hungry,” and without a universal truth, you couldn’t say they were wrong.

We need truth to be true. Someone has to be wrong. But could everyone be wrong?

Let’s take abortion rights as an example which is a topic that is important to many people. In a statement that might anger everyone, I could say that both sides are morally right. Pro-choice supporters believe they are looking out for the rights of women. Pro-life supporters believe they are protecting infants. Both choices, in a vacuum, are admirable.

While everyone would agree that women’s rights and protecting infants are good, both sides disagree for a variety of reasons. Both sides minimize the importance of the other side’s moral choice. It is a very contentious issue, which has been divided into two distinct camps.

Is it possible the truth is somewhere in between? We are used to bottling up our disagreements. When we let them out, we amplify the problem via chalk on our sidewalks. Unless we acknowledge that the other side possesses some truth too, it’s impossible to feel anything but hate, contempt, or pity towards them.

We’ve been socialized to believe in clear-cut good and bad. Cinderella is good, the stepmother is bad. Lightning McQueen is good, Chick Hicks is bad. Shrek is good, Lord Farquaad is bad. Except that outside of stories, there are no good guys or bad guys.

As another election season wraps up, we find ourselves in an increasingly polarized country. It’s easy to surround ourselves with like-minded friends who make it easier to demonize the opposition. Yet this is not a zero-sum game; we can make things better by working together. As the students of East High School so eloquently put it, “We’re all in this together.”

There is a right. There are wrongs. And for the most part we all agree on which is which. Instead of stereotyping others’ characters based on their beliefs, we can instead seek to understand the stories making people who they are.

It’s OK to disagree. In fact, I highly recommend it if you haven’t tried it before. It’s a great way to test your beliefs, hear new perspectives, and see if there are logical reasons behind what you stand for. 

What’s crucial is separating the idea from the person. It’s OK to be unkind to ideas, but not to people: ideas never cry. Considering different perspectives helps us become more well-rounded and less extreme.

I encourage you to take some action. There’s some truth to the idea that everyone has their own truth, at least in the fact that we can only understand people by understanding where they’re coming from. So talk to someone who thinks differently than you.

Perhaps you’ll think they’re wrong. At least, then, you’ll know you’re not the only wrong one.

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