The Problem With “Living Your Truth”

Several weeks ago, podcaster Joe Rogan interviewed Demi Lovato. I listened to the podcast, as I’m a fan of Rogan’s interviews, and I grew up watching Lovato on Disney Channel, and even saw her in concert with the Jonas Brothers–talk about two different worlds colliding…. The interview covered the gamut of Lovato’s experience as a child star, as well as her challenges with mental illness, addiction, and her near-fatal overdose in 2018. While I certainly applaud Lovato for overcoming these obstacles, I couldn’t help but cringe at her continual insistence that people should “live their truth.” 

I have a big problem with that phrase. I understand that each individual has memories and experiences that inform their outlook on the world, but that’s not “truth.” That’s  called “subjective experience.” For example, if someone had a poor experience with dogs in their past and proclaims them to be evil, does this actually mean that all dogs are bad? Does that mean that this individual should be afraid of every dog they encounter, and that each person who owns a dog, has adopted a dog, or works to rescue dogs is contributing to fostering evil? Obviously not. However, someone living with their subjective “truth” that dogs are evil would behave in a way that is negative towards dogs and dog-lovers; encouraging such a person to continue living in this way, without questioning their beliefs, is plain silly (much like this particular example).

When saying something as flippant as “live your truth,” people like Lovato diminish the actual meaning of “truth” as something in accord with fact or reality. This is dangerous, as objectivity is key for the news cycle, history, science, and math, in addition to being vital to how we understand ourselves and our position in the world. While subjective interpretations can be made regarding objective truths, this doesn’t mean that interpretations themselves are factual. Equating the two is irresponsible, as it opens the door for the manipulation of a stable reality on a personal and grand scale. If an individual decides to live according to subjective interpretations about the world or themselves, are they not exhibiting delusional, and perhaps damaging behaviors? For example, if someone has always been told that they are a special and irreplaceable individual, and take such “truths” to heart, they may selfishly act as though they are the center of the universe; conversely, if someone has been continually told that they are not enough, they may carry themselves as such, and never reach their full potential. If objective truth is conflated with subjective opinions, then what is stopping a malicious party from taking advantage of this by feeding the masses information that they decide is “the truth”? Isn’t this what the Communist party did and continues to do in countries like the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea in order to manipulate their respective populations?

Essentially, living according to the subjective beliefs we hold creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. We all have stories and ideas we tell ourselves repeatedly about our past that we can interpret as “truths,” which inform our outlook on the world. Sometimes these personal truths (or, more appropriately, stories) can be beneficial, but can also be damaging, incorrect, and limiting. For example, if you place health and fitness as a top priority or personal value due to a past experience, you may “live your truth” by exercising and eating healthy foods each day; this is an obvious benefit to living according to your “truth.”  However, if your interpretations of past experiences make you believe that you are ugly and unlovable, then living according to this “truth” (again, more appropriately, story) would be to your detriment. In this situation, it would be more beneficial to challenge your “truth” by comparing it to objective reality, rather than wallowing in the terrible things you think are true about yourself and your world. Having an objective truth to use as a comparison to one’s own limiting beliefs is essential to eliminating such beliefs. For instance, if the aforementioned individual was more objective and shifted his or her mindset from “I’m ugly and unlovable” to something like “People find me attractive, and I am loved by my friends and family,” that person will be more likely to experience a positive and fulfilling life. 

Furthermore, “living your truth” is a great way to ignore the experiences other individuals contend with, while providing convenient excuses for your own behavior. Lovato demonstrated the folly of her “live your truth” philosophy in a recent kerfuffle she had with a Los Angeles-based yogurt shop. Upon entering the shop, Lovato was “triggered” by the shop’s advertisement of sugar-free yogurt, claiming that the advertisement promoted “diet culture” and thus was dangerous for those struggling with eating disorders (like Lovato herself). However, the yogurt shop clarified the situation with Lovato, explaining that the sugar-free yogurt advertisements were aimed at diabetic customers. She later issued an apology, blaming her reactiveness in this situation on her “truth” and passion surrounding the subject of eating disorders.

Here, we see how “living your truth” can distract someone from the collective, objective “truth.” Lovato was so consumed with her own experience with an eating disorder (her “truth”), that she failed to see the reality that those with other conditions exist, and thus came off as condescending, arrogant, ignorant, and selfish (I’m not claiming she definitely is any of these things, but her reaction certainly wasn’t helpful for her image). In attempting to protect those with eating disorders, Lovato’s faux-pas inadvertently turned the conversation on herself. Her mishap demonstrated that only paying attention to your individual problems creates a blind spot for the realities other people may have to confront, which is unproductive and can diminish the capacity for empathy. In this case, “living your truth” feels to me like an excuse to selfishly focus on oneself and expect the world to accept your misgivings by using your “truth” (which is not actually “truth” at all) as an excuse. 

There is something to be said for the complexity of the truth itself, which is why it is understandable that people like Lovato advocate for “living your truth.” Given the multitude of perspectives that exist, as well as the human biases we all exhibit, coming to the objective truth–in line with the actual definition of the word–can be challenging. But just because coming to an objective consensus is challenging does not mean we should give up on objectivity altogether. Rather, the goal should be to come to the closest thing to an agreed-upon reality as possible, or risk being deluded, ignorant, and easily misled. As such, we should move forward by questioning the stories and interpretations we repeat to ourselves and to one another, and discuss them with openly in order to reach a more legitimate, and hopefully more beneficial, image of reality.

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