A monopoly on the truth?

This post is one that I've yearned to write about for weeks now because it so adequately summarizes "where I'm at" right now as a person and as a scholar.

There is a Quaker saying (or belief, depending on what kind of Quaker you are) that goes something like this: "We do not claim to have a monopoly on the truth. We are but one pathway to God."

(I'm paraphrasing, by the way.)

But, in essence, they outright claim that they are not the one, supreme, end-all-be-all religion/spirituality.  They are but one way - implying (without judgment, mind you) that there are other ways that might be just as holy or just as "right".  They are... humble.

I've been taking this spiritual philosophy and applying it daily to my readings, to my teaching, and in my scholarship with a very small change - I've replaced "God" with "truth".  (And just as an aside, many Quakers would be absolutely find with that switch as the terms God, Truth, Light, Universe, and Love are often used in this context.)

I am continually amazed and dumbfounded by the number of people who claim to have THE truth.  They have the best diet plan, the worst things to wear, THE best theory of learning.  Put differently, take any number of sweeping platitudes you may hear: Oh, well, everyone is doing such and such! (Really?  Is it everyone?) or If you do this my way (read: the right way) then you'll have no troubles at all. (And how exactly do you know the one right way to do said task?) or No one is writing about THAT anymore. (What a great observation... Have you read everything and talked to everyone?)

This has become my own litmus test of sorts... and I don't think it's going to become a fad for me.  Whenever I come across something - a statement, a phrase, a sentence, or any overreaching conjecture or opinion that might be presented as "fact" - I pause and ask myself, "Does this person think they have a monopoly on the truth?  Do they have the one "right" way to think about said topic? What are they referencing?"

It has actually been truly liberating from a graduate student point of view.  Once I have skimmed an abstract/introduction and find myself going, "Wait a minute..." the patterns within the article almost instantly appear.  I'm not saying that I don't get anything out of the article (possibly a new perspective or some additional references) but if you claim to have THE right answer and the ONLY one, I don't have time for you anymore.

Life is complex and we need to stop being so reductionist in our methodologies and writings and start being humble.  None of us has a monopoly on the truth - we are but one voice in a sea of truths.  What and how those truths exist amongst competing and likeminded truths is the subject for another post altogether.  But as you come across authors and scholars and blog posts and conversations - start asking yourself if the person (or group) claims to have the elusive "IT", the 30-day solution to a problem you've battled all your life - and if you don't head in the opposite direction, at least hear them with a bit of skepticism.

In short, are they being humble?

On the same side of the coin, are you being humble in your spoken word and writings?


I searched high and low in my books on Quakerism and Quaker pedagogy but could not find a direct reference to "monopoly on the truth".  A quick Google search turned up the Quaker Universalist Group over in the UK:
To affirm that as truth is all-embracing and universal, spiritual awareness is accessible to women and men of any religion or none, for no religion or person has a monopoly of truth.



Popular posts from this blog

Re-Imagining Online Teaching & Learning: A Cognitive Tools Approach

Matthew Arnold: Literature and Science