When there are no facts
There are a lot of situations where we get into conflicts and where there is no clear right or wrong. Situations which become subjective, where we choose to agree to disagree.
There is a conflict I have been struggling for quite some time. I am a firm believer of logic and facts. I believe that beyond all our perception and interpretations there is a reality that exists. Remember that story about 7 blind men defining what an elephant looks like, well there is an elephant out there and it has a real well defined shape. And I believe in finding out that real shape.
But in real world, there are two things that conflict with this desire of finding facts behind everything. First is the fundamental nature of us social beings i.e. to influence others and enforce our own opinions as truth. Second is the fact that a lot of times we are debating about the future that doesn’t exist yet and hence there is no one single fact about it. Mostly, the two of them co-exist.
Let me introduce a little bit of physics here. In physics, we have a concept called light cone. The idea is that given your current position, the maximum distance you can cover in a span of time is restricted by speed of light.
The same is applied to the reality of our lives that we struggle with. There is an absolute point where we are today which restricts where we can be at some point in future.
So now, coming back to the conflict. Let’s first take stupidity out of question. Let’s assume we all are logical beings incapable of stupidity. So, we start with a current reality that we are aware of and we project where we want to be. Generally we would want to achieve the best that’s possible for us, i.e. positioning ourselves at a point on the boundary of the light cone. There is someone else out there who is also doing the same, but this person chooses a different point on the light cone. And that’s where the debate begins.
You both start with trying to influence each other and establish that the point you chose is the best future and we shall aim for that. But it is tough to get there, it is nearly impossible. And that’s where we end up creating irreconcilable differences. To win this debate that our chosen point in the future is the one to aim for, we start trying to distort reality. Given this chosen end point in future, we project an arbitrary point in the present which excludes the other guy’s future and we start claiming that to be our current reality. We go as far as projecting a path through our past journey to justify that this is our current reality. And the other guy is doing the same. So we end up creating two entirely different picture of our current reality, neither of which are anywhere close to the truth.
This is the root of a lot of endless debates. We do not agree on the future we want, so we build our own arbitrary pictures of present.
Even with these huge differences in what we want from our future and what our present, we still manage to make progress. There are two ways in which I can imagine a possible reconciliation that allows us to move forward.
Steve Jobs is famous for something called reality distortion field. His conviction in himself and his influence was so strong that he was able to convince the other person to follow his goal, believe in his picture of reality while abandoning theirs. This ensured that everyone around him focused on his nearly impossible goals, creating futuristic and ambitious products.
So be an ass, convince the other guy that you are right and they are wrong and you can achieve greatness even if you are wrong every once in a while. Though it is a recipe for disaster if you are not able to convince the other guy.
An alternate is which we generally follow in our society is negotiation. Essentially you listen to other guy’s arguments, realise that the future they are chasing is also equally plausible but not something that you are comfortable with. So you negotiate for a midway goal. As a result you are no more targeting the most ambitious of the goals but something in between, a compromise. This allows you to also revisit your understanding of the present and may be agree upon a picture of the present closer to the reality.