Recently my wife, Megan, and I were out somewhere doing something – How’s that for accuracy and clarity! – when I started talking to someone about the things that I have been going through. After a period of time, my wife came up and I mentioned to the person I was talking to that Megan could probably recount more accurately what actually happened because my version was usually a story of my own making. That’s when she came up with the memorable line, “Honey, it’s all a story.” That line contains more truth than she may have realized. Read on if you want to learn how that plays out.
When I went to college at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, in the early 1970s, I majored in the History and Philosophy of Science. That was not a standard major; it was rather anad hoc major that I put together myself with the help of a number of advisors and friends. I started out as a science major but I quickly made a shift into the humanities and, ultimately, into ministry. It was a good decision that I do not regret and that helped to form me into the person I am today.
As part of my studies, I took a number of philosophy courses where I was introduced to a number of different theories of truth. The simplest and most obvious, of course, is the correspondence theory of truth. In this theory, there is an actual state of affairs and things are true when our words correspond to what actually happened. This is the theory of truth upon which trials and courtroom testimonies, for example, are based: a one-to-one correspondence. To quote Joe Friday of Dragnet fame in the late 1960s: “All we want are the facts, ma’am, just the facts”
That is not the only theory available, however, and it is certainly not the theory that I lived by since waking up from my coma and starting to function again in the real world. Some of the other famous theories include the constructivist theory, whereby truth is constructed by social processes and is historically as well as culturally specific, the consensus theory, whereby truth is whatever people agree upon, and the pragmatic theory, which holds that truth is whatever works when one’s concepts are put into practice.
The theory that I studied quite a bit at Northwestern University, under the South African philosopher Errol Harris, is called the coherence theory of truth. Simply put, this theory holds that truth is whatever fits together as proper elements in a whole system. I still have one of Dr. Harris’ books, Hypothesis and Perception, on my bookshelf and, even in my current condition, I was able to turn around in my office, spy it on the top shelf, and pull it down directly without so much as a hesitation. His theories and teaching continue to stay with me after lo these many years.
Even the title of the book communicates its concern: what is the relationship between our beliefs about the world and our perceptions of the world? In his book, Dr. Harris argues for a constructive understanding of the scientific method that depends upon the coherence of truth. Simply put, he asserts that scientists enter the laboratory with an understanding that reflects a certain level of coherence, meaning it hangs together up to a point. But there are always discrepancies and the point of their work is to generate understandings that reflect ever higher levels of coherence. They want their theories, in other words, to hang together even better. And that, he argues, is the purpose of all experiments: to create ever more coherent understandings.
Such is the story of my life these days, as I continue to recover from the setbacks I have experienced with my seizures and epileptic brain disorder. Every time I have a seizure, my wife compares it to shaking the Etch-a-Sketch: it wipes the slate clean and I have to start over in the sense-making business. Often, my sense-making does not make sense to or compare to the memories of other people; but that’s no matter. They make sense to me and as long as they enable me to function in the world, like sending out Provisions on the first day of every week, then they are good enough for me.
Of course, assuming the day ever comes that I start driving again, there are situations where it is very helpful to work with a one-to-one correspondence between what’s in your mind and what’s in the world. Otherwise you may be driving around lost for very long periods of time! But that’s where compensating strategies, like GPS driving devices and apps, come into play. There’s always more than one way to get from here to there and, in this day and age, computer technology can often do that better than we can do with our biologically-limited minds.
This was brought home to me recently when my wife and I went our separate ways in a store, just to look around. While browsing, I started talking to one of the sales’ clerks about the things I had been going through over the past nine months (I do that often and easily these days, as you know if you have been reading these Provisions). After a period of time, Megan came up and I mentioned to the sales’ clerk that if she wanted the real story she would have talk to my wife, because I live in a reality of my own making. That’s when she came up with that fabulously funny and wonderful line, “Honey, it’s all a story!”
Errol Harris would have loved that moment, because he was clearly more oriented around the coherence theory of truth than any of the other theories. We all try and get through life as best we can, even scientists, and we do so with theories that strive to make sense of the past, explain the present, and predict the future with some degree of proficiency. I know that’s my challenge and this theory helps me to understand my task as fundamentally one of understanding what is and is not true. I don’t really care about whether or not it accurately corresponds to some account of events or whether some culture would accept my rendition. I care about whether or not it makes sense to me and those I love.
By “sense” I mean that it holds together and works, at least tolerably well, in the world that all of us live. In other words, that it coheres or holds together. But it has to cohere not only to me as an isolated individual but also to me a person in context. Those contexts are many and varied, such as my immediate family, extended family, friends, clubs, associations, churches, and the other contexts in which I live. If I don’t make sense in those contexts, and if they don’t make sense to me, then we’re all in trouble. We’ll forever be struggling to figure out what happened, is happening, and will happen. We will forever be struggling, in other words, with our relationship to the past, present, and future.
I have been struggling with such sense-making lately and I would ask for your continued support and prayers, if you pray. The next few months are critical months as we try, one last time, to see if this seizure disorder can be actually cured. They give me a 20% chance – which are not good odds, but they are better than no odds at all. It makes sense to me that I will be in that 20% given my wife’s love, my family’s support, my doctor’s expertise, and so many people pulling for me. There are no guarantees, of course, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. J
Coaching Inquiries: What story governs your life? How could you change that story for the better? Who could help you do that? If you could change that story any way you like, how would you write the story? What’s stopping you from doing that? Why not get started by replying to this Provision right now?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
Really enjoyed your last Provision on Family Time. So glad you were able to enjoy Chautauqua together. I know that’s an important place and time for all of you. Who knew, last year, what you would go through to get there this year. But you made it! Hang in there. We love you.
Soooooooooooooooo glad you’re feeling better. Better and better, everyday in every way.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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