I used to love the idea of history. For a long time when I was younger, the only thing I would watch on TV was the History Channel. No cartoons. Just programs with old dudes. (Some were probably Harvard professors?) It fascinated me. The crazy stories about rulers of old, invasions, wars, ancient people that lived what seemed completely different lives provided a fountain of realities that existed outside of my day to day life. In a way, the History Channel marketed some of its programs as if they were plots from a blockbuster movie. I loved it. I believed in those programs with my heart and soul.
Yet as I’ve grown older, I’ve developed an estranged relationship with history. It’s not that I don’t enjoy learning about other people, other cultures, civilizations, or accomplishments. It’s the fact that a lot of what has been told to me seems like a half-truth, or that the authenticity of the history I’ve learned, read about, or even witnessed through primary sources is so far away from the present that I automatically question if what I’m being told or telling myself is actually authentic. What’s the point of learning, analyzing or even discussing this gray area between what we think occurred and what we know has occurred? Can we ever get to the truth?
Now I know it seems very idealistic, and almost utopian to desire pure truth from every conversation I have, from every class I take, from every professor I talk to — people even lie sometimes. Many would say that higher education brings us closer to these truths. Harvard’s “Veritas” markets this very well. Yet what Harvard does not advertise is that perhaps the hardest part of education is ciphering through what we are told, and to convince ourselves which truths we should begin to apply to our own lives; how we can use them to change the world, all the while trying to discover the people who we really are and desire to become.
But we shouldn’t worry too much. There’s a comfort in analyzing the truths we choose to carry along with us. I would argue that what happens in my own life, the events I know pretty well, the things I tell myself, have no more or less significance for me than those who founded calculus or discovered the earth was round. They are at least as real to me as anything else I would read in a book or watch on TV as a little kid. In our search for truth, we should find this comforting. We are still very much in control of how we perceive things. Stories are always shifting and secrets that used to be hidden for others are often at some point revealed. The world’s a little less black and white than it sometimes seems.
It’s our own truths, the ones that we can write down from our own minds that matter the most. We own them. We are the only ones that can inhabit them. The only ones that can advocate for them. And we can’t neglect the power this holds. How we see the world individually is an amalgamation of our truths. This is important. This dictates how we interact with it. The truths we create for ourselves dictate how we view outside influences in day-to-day life.
When we’re ready, if we so desire, we should document our own truths. This could mean literally anything, but you may find it more valuable if it’s something that matters to you. Truths can be fleeting. We can document them if we write them down while we are interacting with them. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes they won’t. But that’s okay. What we consider to be our truths have the power to connect us with others, to improve others’ lives, to worsen others’ lives, to transform us, and to transport us into new perspectives. They don’t have to bind us. They can be flexible — we can call them ideas.
Furthermore, we may discover more about the truths we inhabit through sharing them with others. Through this, commonalities will be found, and differences too. From my experience, sharing my truths and listening to those of others provides a sense of community. It leads to a feeling of being more “human” regardless of who I’m interacting with. More importantly, it leads to a more authentic education, something that is undeniably tangible in my own mind.
An important aspect of the journey for truth is that we have the space in our minds to explore. Small efforts to allow ourselves some headspace each day, such as meditation or journaling provide good ways to engage with ourselves. More importantly these practices allow us to think about how things have rolled out for us in our lives, and how we choose to interact with what we believe to be our own histories.
If anything can be taken away from this article it’s this: Buy a notebook and start writing. You’ve only got so much time to find some truth.
George A. Arenas ’22, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Dunster House.