…to disbelieve what you have lived


We have to live today by what truth we can get today and be ready tomorrow to call it falsehood. ~ William James

Reading, travelling and more recently – living abroad has taught me to question things I often took as given.

From the books I read since my childhood; I found a means of escaping my own world and roamed unfettered into what I considered to be the ‘imaginary’ worlds of others.

Imaginary in the sense that these worlds were intangible to me and what was real was only that which I experienced day by day.

What we live is often what we believe. Our idea of reality is so intricately woven into the fabric of our lived experience that it takes a lot to admit that our ‘truth’ is not the only truth there is.

When you encounter norms, values, customs, ideas, manners, traditions, cultures and ways of being that are nothing like your own – you are left with two choices.

To either hold on adamantly to what you have lived and now believe or to accept that what you believe can and should encompass more than just what you’ve lived.

I was startled last week during a seminar when one colleague from Syria (I think he should be 30 years at least) revealed that until July last year – he’d never seen a black person face to face.

Over the months, he and I have become acquaintances but I never realized what a fascinating species I must be to him. With my chocolate skin and my defiantly uncombed, African natural hair (which I recall, he once shyly touched with this look of perplexion and amused incomprehension).

He admitted how he had never associate beauty with a dark skinned person because where he comes from they identify as being ‘white’ and hence their standard of beauty is measure along paler hues of skin pigmentation.

And all the time he explained this, he kept glancing at me (the only black person in that seminar group) apologetically and lifting his palms up in a gesture of helplessness – it was what he’d lived therefore it informed what he believed.

I was rather bemused.

He then went on to confess to our pre-dominantly Chinese seminar group that he had a hard time telling their individual faces apart because to him they all looked alike. At that point, I had to burst out laughing because I simply couldn’t see how he could fail to tell them apart when their features were so distinct!

In any case, I was reminded of Lucky Dube’s song:

It got me thinking as well of the things I hold with such conviction – things that I use my own lived experience as a premise – things I hold to be true but that I now accept could never be the entirety of the truth.

Perhaps the definition of tolerance is simply to disbelieve what you have lived – to appreciate the limitations of your own world view and entertain the possibility that ours is just one version of reality as we have lived and experienced it.

Maybe Bertrand Russell shared similar sentiments when he stated – “I would never die for my beliefs because I could be wrong”.

One thought on “…to disbelieve what you have lived

  1. novuyo says:

    This piece resonates something in me. This idea of questioning norms, questioning values, not having the answers. sigh

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