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“What is Truth”? Interview with Professor Uroš Pinterič

Today we have the huge privilege of having Professor Uroš Pinterič, Professor of Political Science at the Faculty of Organization Studies in Novo Mesto (Slovenia) and Trnava University. This feature is part of our Truth Series. Enjoy!

WW: Can you tell us more about yourself and what you are doing?

Uroš Pinterič: I am professor of political science at the Faculty of Organisation Studies in Novo mesto (Slovenia) and Trnava University, previously I was working at Charles University in Prague and few other academic institutions.

A better question is what I am not doing, since next to the professional duties, I am trying myself in food production (salamis, wine,…) as well as construction or collection of old books. In the past I spend 12 years working with horses and few additional years in reptile collecting. Most simply, I always consider knowledge and work as two main values, and I am trying to follow them.

OK, I am not a musician – at this I could take some classes from anyone who knows how to play a guitar.

WW: How would you define “the truth”? Is there a truth, or is everything subjective?

Uroš Pinterič: The truth – is the ultimate lie, which cannot be decoded by any means, known in given moment when The truth is proclaimed. In other perspective; nobody owns The truth.

But we have different degrees of truth.

Starting with old wisdom. If you recall the case of so called Plato’s cave. People sit in dark cave and the light is falling on the wall, and people see the shadows of outer word and they understand it as truth – until somebody decides to climb out of the cave and realises that what they saw was just the image of the reality, which might be completely different.

Based on this the premise is that truth is only subjective. But being bit more precise there is absolute truth and also relative/subjective truth. There are factual elements which can be called truth per se (if somebody dies, that body has no life and this is pretty much it), however, question why somebody died can be very tricky one since different perspectives will take place (doctors will say that person was old, while relatives will say that doctors did not do everything to save that person).

However, there is no doubt that person is dead, but which of reasons is behind can be debatable, which creates space for relativism and for possibility for different truths, where all possible realities can be true.

So answer is both and more; there is field of actual truth (which also can change, there is field of relational truth and there is field of pure lies). And there is also factual/absolute truth which nobody is able to revile in whole due to the limited capacities (e.g. is there human-comparable life in universe – we are able to speculate, we have theories, plausible theories, etc. but no capacities to know for sure).

How do you tell?

Oh very easy, just check what politicians promise before election, what they do and how they interpret the same thing before next election. This is the most recognised deception among most people. In general we agree that there is many “truths”, perceptions, perspectives and lies.

On more human note, you have that famous rhetorical question if the glass is half full or half empty (which basically gives the definition of three perspectives of the world (and based on exact answer, few more). Cynical person would say “well, for sure it is not full enough”, hopeful one will turn this into “i wish, it would be full”, etc.

Whenever people believe, hope, think, or even know, something is truth, it is most likely partial truth at best. In this perspective statistics can be called the biggest lie, since you can from exact result (actual truth) create various interpretations, which can tell just part of the story or create even the lie. On a personal note, you will tell that there is very seldom the truth, based on the experience. Nothing is as it looks like, in most of the cases.

In this perspective there is additional question, which is more important and probably has no answer. Why and how to trust anyone if potentially everything is a lie/deception. And in very same point something happens also to the truth (it becomes relative).

Because we predominantly trust people, because we believe that they are more likely good than bad, and at the very same point we choose to believe that people are more telling truth than lies, so we stop to doubt what we hear. We develop blind trust and we get cheated on.

But if we reject to believe, we have essential problem, since we never know what is and what is not real, which leads to spectrum of psychological disorders and inability to function within the society.

WW: What are the three ways you can tell the truth to someone without being offensive?

Uroš Pinterič: Telling the truth and not being offensive – it is impossible to tell single way, because telling truth includes interaction of two or more beings (OK, you can tell the truth to the animal and they will not be offended, or among people, using normal conversational scale of certain culture but do it in foreign language; but probably you want the statement to be understood).

What happens, it depends on the truth as such. Assuming truth is a statement, which can be positive or negative or neutral. In first two cases, I would assume that it is not that hard. Nobody gets offended by getting the info that weather will be nice or that promotion was granted (if we leave out really strange margin of the people, which are not able to relate information and emotions in expected way – regardless of cultural context).

So the question is how to tell negative truth to someone, without being offensive. How you tell someone that somebody died; for sure with some compassion if nothing else. But this does not work when you try to tell someone that s/he failed at project which everyone was relying on.

For general rule of thumb, well do not be offensive or directly abusive, try to be constructive and especially do not over-time the rubbing unpleasant reality in the face of the receiver of the message. However, there is a great chance, especially in the times of so called Entitled society (where everyone believes that has the right and only knows the truth), people will get offended just for the sake of their over-potent ego, and in such situation you cannot escape the accusation about being offensive.

And you never know if with whom the interaction is going on, so keep calm, behaved and hope that you talk to balanced person.

WW: What are the three ways a person can accept the truth without being offended? 

Uroš Pinterič: Well this one has similar problem (net to the fact that we are again talking just about handling with the unpleasant truth), since before one can accept the truth without being offended, that person needs to be enough self-aware that recognises his character.
In the shallow society world where it is easier to earn money with reality shows than with honest work/labour, there is lack of critical self-reflection.
However, for sure:
  • First rule is listen before you open your mouth.
  • Second, ask yourself if there is at least minimal chance that you are actually wrong and that the other person speaks the truth. Since recognising the truth as truth should reduce the offense, when communicated in a manner of decent people.
  • Third, have enough self-control /self-awareness that you are able to recognise that bad reaction to the truth will create situation where you were not only wrong but also you will become the misbehaved kid. And that is bad reputation for you and everyone who supports you, since mistakes can be forgiven but behaving like a kid is tolerated only when you are a kid.
There are two very nice messages in this perspective; “don’t kill the messenger”, and famous line of Jack Nicholson “You can’t handle the truth!!!!!”.
So most likely the one who reports the (unpleasant) truth is just the messenger and we should learn how to handle the truth, by following that meditation above, before acting offended.

WW: On a parting note, can you give us a painless tip to check if a person is not lying to himself/herself? 

Uroš Pinterič: In the world where pain is sometimes only sign that we are alive (regardless of pleasure or torture), it is hard to provide painless tips.

First, such tip assumes that one is capable of critical reflection of self and surroundings. If this assumption is valid, than things are simple. Ask yourself if there is a possibility that different perspective is actually truth or closer to the truth than your belief (since we said that in many cases truth is only partial/relative/relational). And if the person is capable to critically answer this question, most likely is also in touch with the truth.

In the opposite case such person is creating bubble of own interpretation, which is very calming, but also very dangerous when broken with very little pin of more truthful reality. Lying to oneself is not too bad as long as it works, we live in times of illusion–of democracy, of citizens power, of value of human life, economic prosperity, etc.

But when you realize – usually too late – that government is not on your side, people are selfish, your economic prosperity can be gone whit single bad decision, that will hurt you because outer world does not care about personal traumas, sensitivity, entitlement to political correctness.

In his sense, Darwin was right in his assumption that the evolution of history is constant fight for survival of the fittest. And to win survival fights, there is no rules, lies and deception are part of the fight, and if you take the bite you have nobody but yourself to blame. I know it is painful but, saying anything else it would be denial of all that I said before.

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