Relative Truth

A postcard view of the neighborhood of my children's great grandparents in Tangier.

A postcard view of the neighborhood of my children's great grandparents in Tangier.

Living for more than thirty years with a Tangier-ene has taught me that all truth is relative. And the more relatives you have, the more truths there are. 

My favorite story involves the former city-state of Tangier itself.  The truth for our family is that the international zone of Tangier “fell” to the Moroccans in 1956.  In the Moroccan history books however, that date is celebrated as the time when Tangier was liberated from the colonizing Europeans. Which is true? Both are true, but how you tell the story is based on your relationship to the city.

And so it goes with the stories of our family histories.

We’ve just spent a month or so visiting with relatives we hold dear which inevitably leads to history questions and memories of past events. It doesn’t take long to realize that what I knew to be “true” of our connected past is not at all how a cousin or aunt viewed the event.

The relative we experienced as being chronically depressed is part of the childhood memories for others as being lively and engaged. The cousins we adore as being strong and spirited are experienced as domineering and overbearing by others.

So how should we prepare for the upcoming holiday and seasonal gatherings where we will be confronted en masse by a wide array of truths that challenge our view of our memories and selves? I’ve found that a well-known Minnesota phrase is my best default response when hearing something that’s the opposite of my experience. 

“Well now, that’s interesting,” just pops out as I try to slow down a tendency to defend or argue over my now-shattered beliefs. 

Yes, it’s the season for respectful listening with an open mind to learn how cousin Gertrude experienced your favorite Uncle Melvin, and how your brother experienced his life with your father. Listening well with an actively open mind can bring its own light, which is something we all seek in our northern hemisphere at this light-starved time of year.

Whether celebrating the victory of a band of rebels, the birth of a peaceful prophet, or the approach of a new calendar year, seeking the light of understanding from the relative truths of our shared experiences can lead to the greatest truth of all – that the rich diversity of how we see the world, our perspectives, and the sense of fullness that results make our shared journey through life together much more meaningful.