The opposite of truth

Opposite of truth - image for article by Greg Alder

Everyone wants to be right. Nobody wants to be wrong. The desire to be right is wrong. Here’s what’s wrong with wanting to be right.

Firstly, the desire to be right keeps us from trying something new. New things come loaded with uncertainty. They’re untried. Therefore the outcome is unknown. Say you think of a new way to approach a familiar problem. You suggest it to your client, boss or partner. Nine times out of ten, the response will be, “Will it work?” or “Can you guarantee it?”

Second, the desire to be right leads to rules. Rules also keep us from trying something new. “This is the way we do it here.” “We can’t do that. It’s against company rules.”

Third, the desire to be right kills curiosity. We believe there is a right answer. As soon as we get the answer, we stop asking the question. We fail to search for a second right answer. And a third. And a fourth.

There’s an elegant Sufi story about two men in dispute. They turn to a Sufi judge to settle the matter. One man presents his argument to the judge. He argues convincingly and eloquently. The judge hears him out, then says, “That’s right. That’s right.”

The other man is incensed that the judge agrees with the first man’s version of the story. “Just a moment, judge. You haven’t heard my side of the story yet.” The judge agrees. He asks the second man to present his version of events. He is as eloquent and persuasive as the first man. When he has finished, the judge nods in agreement and says, “That’s right. That’s right.”

When the clerk of the court hears this, he jumps to his feet and says, “Judge, they can’t both be right!”

The judge nods his head again. “That’s right. That’s right.”

We’re confronted with facts every day of our lives. Hundreds of them. We unthinkingly assume many of them to be true. And because we accept one fact to be true, we naturally assume the opposite to be a lie.

The trouble is that we’re so lazy, so blasé and so jaded that we don’t recognise that some truths are paradoxes – two truths that ought to cancel each other out, but don’t.

Examples? Bittersweet. You have to be cruel to be kind. The beginning of the end.

From George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

Oscar Wilde: “I can resist everything except temptation.”

If a Cretan says to you, “All Cretans are liars”, do you believe him?

Say you want to start a transport business. The first bit of advice, the first truth you will hear is that you first need to buy the transport.

You’re not rich. The second truth is that you don’t have the money to buy the transport. You approach the bank for a loan. The loans officer responds with another truth: “You don’t earn enough to qualify for a loan.”

Your business never gets off the ground because you have accepted these 3 truths. As Uber has demonstrated, you can run a transport business without owning a vehicle. (Just as Airbnb is an accommodation business that doesn’t own a hotel.)

To find revolutionary ideas for your current business or for a startup, start challenging the old truths.

Think the opposite. This is where the new truths exist.

Old truth: Readers go to bookstores to buy books. New truth: Bookstores go to readers (Amazon).

Nobel Laureate Niels Bohr summed up what’s possible when we look differently at truth and lies.

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.

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