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Do you want the truth, or do you want to feel good?

15 Jun 2024

These desires are fundamentally at odds with each other. It doesn’t mean truth and feeling good can’t coexist. In fact the less resistance to what’s true, the less struggling there is against reality. But the desire to feel good will always stymie the desire for truth.

Why do we tend to form groups of people who believe in similar ideas? Is it to seek truth together? Or is it because we want to feel good, to fit in, to feel accepted.

This comfort of like-mindedness is understandable, but it hides an unfortunate reality. The more we invest in the identity of the group, the less willing we are to see anything that contradicts the beliefs we’ve adopted. To do so would put us at risk of being ostracised. It would threaten the comfort we feel in being part of this group. It would threaten the identity we’ve so carefully constructed.

Just take a look at the way any group of diehard believers respond to an idea that contradicts their beliefs. The fact that a simple contradictory idea can be a threat reveals the real motivation. If the believers were really interested in truth, why would they be so threatened by a simple idea? The truth can’t be touched by an idea. A different idea about gravity won’t stop a glass from smashing on the floor.

When faced with an idea that challenges our view, collectively we come up with elaborate narratives to justify the existing view. These complex mindgames we play with ourselves is how cognitive dissonance is born, and requires a lot of energy to hold together. All just because we cling to belief. This can continue for a long time, or until it reaches a breaking point. The collective becomes so delusional that some members smell that something is off, and it begins to fall apart.

When you know the truth, you are not afraid of an idea.

When you know the truth, there’s no desire to convince anyone. What would be the point? The truth is right there for the taking. If they were genuinely interested, they could find out for themselves.

If we always chase good feelings, we’re like a moth to a flame. We flock to those who confirm our existing beliefs, because it feels good to be understood. In the extreme, we’re susceptible to charlatans who prey on the hurt and vulnerable and promise health, wealth and happiness, the very things we believe we’re so lacking. A comfortable delusion is preferred over an uncomfortable truth.

To really seek the truth is to be willing to stand completely alone. To be willing to hold truth above any desire for acceptance, or any desire to be right. To be open to having our beliefs shattered, over and over again. To seek the truth is to be willing to feel everything we don’t want to feel and uncover everything we hide from ourselves. To be willing to see it all for what it really is. To question every narrative we hold, including our most personal ones, and those we agree with the most. To seek the truth is to call into question every belief that we’ve ever held, and allow every one of them to crumble. Especially those that seem the most true.

To know the truth is to know that we can never truly believe anything.

Stop searching for the correct view, and consider what it might be like to have no view.

Truth is the only thing that can’t fall away.

Let all the beliefs fall away, so that nothing but truth remains.

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Jordan West

Sydney, Australia

jordan [at] west.io | twitter | github | youtube | instagram