Bookshops and the nature of truth

Only two weeks ago Melbourne was sweltering in nearly 40o, last weekend we were with thousands at the beach, and as is typical Melbourne, the weather has now turned. (I spent the weekend with Paul Kelly’s Wintercoat playing in my head as background music.) Our growing 9 year old needed some warmer clothes so Maria was off with her for a shopping excursion; I decided to tag along and wander the shops for a couple of hours. I didn’t make it past Borders.

I find myself jealous for the wisdom and perspective of the authors. I admire the creativity and discipline necessary to write a novel, let alone a good one. I browse the table of the latest releases and get drawn into the amazing experiences of the writers. Inevitably I wander to the leadership and management sections …

I smile inwardly at the variety of voices competing to convince the business world that their ideas will make a difference. I find some familiar and trusted authors, it feels a bit like wandering though a big house and finding a room you’ve spent lots of time in … comfortable and engaging. Then, as is my custom, I intentionally seek out some odd titles, ones that challenge my comfort and sense of what is right or worthwhile and it reminds me again how wonderfully diverse people’s experience and knowledge is. How can so many people’s views be simultaneously important enough to warrant telling the world?

I used to think that ‘truth’ was about purity of knowledge, a kind of an essence that could be distilled by investigation and rigour. The discipline of truth finding was about peeling away the layers of subjectivity and discarding that which was tainted by experience and limited perspective. The bookshop invites another way seeking truth.

Everyone’s perspective and experience has legitimacy, they teach us something. Everyone’s beliefs make perfect sense to them. No one behaves in ways that don’t fit with their view of reality at the time. To get a full appreciation of reality, the task is therefore not so much to attempt to eliminate the ‘impurity’ of subjectivity, but to embrace it as another window into the world as it is (experienced). In other words, an accurate picture of truth is developed by considering as many perspectives as possible, not by convincing ourselves over and over that our particular vista is somehow paramount. This of course doesn’t mean it is not appropriate to argue the case for what we ‘see’, simply that our wisdom in ‘seeing’ is enhanced by appreciating what other are simultaneously seeing.

Every single title in the bookshop offers a ray of perspective on the object at the centre called life. I find the prospect of basking in as many of those rays as possible over a lifetime journey immensely attractive.

And by the way, with two (and one soon-to-be) teenage daughters, the purchase for the day was Kaz Cooke’s typical witty, candid and insightful tome called ‘Girl Stuff’.