The Big Idea: However common it is to hear talk of “my truth, “your truth,” “her truth,” and even “no truth,” it’s worth asking: Is any of this actually true? We’re going to try and persuade you that this question matters most—making the case that a shared pursuit of truth (shaped by our unique perceptions, yes—but not completely constrained by them) is the only thing that makes conversation truly meaningful. If we enter into a conversation assuming that the truth itself is common to us both, yet recognizing that we don’t see it the same way, then we can at least begin to compare and contrast our perceptions of reality in order to sift out the truthful wheat from the troublesome chaff (exaggerations, omissions, mistakes, errors, lies, fake news, etc.).
How do you react when you hear someone use that word? What thoughts come to mind? How do you feel? Is “truth” (however you define it) something you long for? Despair of? Fear? Dismiss? Prefer to ignore? See as irrelevant? An obstacle to peace? Consider to be unattainable or even non-existent? (Please take a moment—now—to reflect.)
Interestingly enough, people may be spending more time and energy these days judging each other’s opinions as being “loving” or “hateful,” “ignorant” or “enlightened,” “bigoted” or “tolerant,” “outrageous” or “spot on,” “scientific” or “science-denying,” rather than on simply considering whether our opinions are true or not. Rarely, in other words, when engaging with someone’s assertion or opinion (especially an opinion we do not like), do we ask simply: “Is it true?”
Philosophers have contested the finer points of the word “truth” for centuries. In this essay, however, by “truth” we mean simply, commonsensically, “reality,” or “that which is true”; and by “true” we mean simply “accurate,” “factual,” “real.” This may seem like much ado about something rather obvious, but, in fact, in today’s world, the words “truth” and “true” are often weaponized and fretted over, thereby obscuring the simplicity of their essential commonsense meaning and their potential for uniting people in the common pursuit of what is true.
However fallible our instinct for truth (or falsehood) may be, and however deeply it may be critiqued from a philosophical perspective, we want to persuade you that seeking the truth is an indispensable guide and aim in conversations with others. In fact, we ultimately want to persuade you that seeking not just the truth but the whole truth together is the only foundation upon which meaningful conversation on important topics can proceed and is the only framework within which the chances for lasting peaceful co-existence can be pursued.
Against this backdrop, we want to convince you in what follows that it is wisest to meet each opinion we encounter in the world with one overriding and central question: “Is it true?” We want to persuade you to consider all other questions asked of an opinion (“is it loving?” “is it ‘scientific?” “is it orthodox?” “is it politically correct?”) to be secondary to the primary question of its truth.
While this focus on the truth may sound rather severe or austere or even fanatical, we also want to persuade you that it is, ultimately, probably the most loving and life-supporting approach to take in our encounters with other hearts and minds and souls. One often hears people say that everyone has a “right to their opinion.” That is true. But if we leave it at that, and fail to engage with (and perhaps even challenge) those opinions, aren’t we really telling each other that some of our most important beliefs are not really worth engaging with (or struggling over)? If we are not willing to challenge each other’s beliefs, are we not really telling each other that we don’t trust ourselves or each other enough to be willing to see how our opinions about reality stack up against reality itself?
Seeking not just the truth but the whole truth together is the only foundation upon which meaningful conversation on important topics can proceed.
If, on the other hand, we meet each other’s opinions with the question, “is it true?”—and then proceed to try to answer the question . . . in conversation . . . together . . . .we have begun to really listen to each other, and we have begun to take each other seriously. And we have begun to use communication for (what we would argue is, in most instances) its primary purpose: seeking the whole truth together.
This is not to say that “truth” should be the focus of every conversation or meeting of souls. Sometimes we merely want to have fun, or to console, or to grease the social wheels. But in all important conversations on topics of importance (climate, marriage, war and peace, democracy, health, etc.), yes, we do want to persuade you that seeking truth—the whole truth—together is the way.
The many strange debates over truth
Strangely enough, in today’s polarized world, the word “truth” often triggers a chain reaction of mutual distrust and misunderstanding. The secular left (generally speaking) tends to go into “deconstruct” mode when they hear the word “truth” spoken by a religious conservative (e.g. “the truth is that salvation is to be found only through Jesus”), and these left-leaning folks thereby end up sounding like extreme all-truth-denying “relativists” to people on the right. However, if the issue changes, and the topic of conversation becomes, say, “human-caused climate change,” the roles often reverse, and people on the “climate believing” left become the advocates for the truth of climate change, and accuse “climate skeptics” on the right of being “science-deniers” and of telling “lies,” while the skeptics on the right (and some on the left) deconstruct and call into question any “arrogant soon-to-be-debunked” scientific consensus.
What is missed in this sort of back-and-forth is the fact that both sides are making truth claims . . . that is, both sides are saying that “the reality is such-and-such”—Why not, then, engage on that level? Why not say, “I don’t believe it is true that salvation is to be found only in Jesus because . . . ,” or “I don’t believe climate change is real because . . . ,” or “I do believe that Marx was aiming for personal liberty because he said . . . .”
What are you trying to convince anyone of if there’s no truth? Why have a conversation at all?
What are you trying to convince anyone of if there’s no truth? Why have a conversation at all?
With the reasons introduced by the word “because” there come (perhaps) some things that can actually be discussed, or considered, together. But accusations of “religious bigotry,” or “leftist New World Order propaganda”—if simply left there without any further reasons given—creates psychological conditions that quash any real conversation (aside from who is the biggest bigot or liar, etc.). If a conservative Christian is accused of being “unloving” because she believes her faith’s teachings on LBTQ sexuality to be true, where can the conversation go from there? However, if we engage the same individual by saying that “your beliefs in question are not true because . . . ,” then, with that simple word “because,” we show her respect by taking her truth claim seriously enough—as a truth claim—to give our reasons for disagreement. This opens room for a conversation of mutual influence, and honest dialogue about what is or is not, in fact, true, rather than a closed defensive debate or, worse, a spectacle of mutual recrimination of bad faith.
Similarly, if a socialist is accused of being an enemy of everything America holds dear, where can the conversation go after that? However, if a pro-capitalism conservative engages with the socialist by saying that “socialism is the enemy of liberty because . . . ,” then, the socialist actually has something concrete to respond to (and perhaps to correct, if the perception of his discussion partner is mistaken); and again what’s more, a feeling of mutual respect emerges, as whole truth seekers take each other seriously in their shared search for the truth.
Instead of engaging in this way, people too often engage in strange fruitless debates, as one or more of the parties involved claim that truth either is unknowable, or is wholly and hopelessly subjective—essentially insisting that “my truth” and “your truth” exist in different worlds altogether, the twain never destined to meet. Stranger still, many modern people join in passionate arguments about what’s “really” happening even though they vehemently deny the existence of any knowable truth.
For the relativist-leaning folks among you, sure, you can go into a philosophical conversation about ‘truth’ if you want to, but if you’re going to go into a conversation about anything else in the entire universe, we are making the case that you have to start with the instinct for truth, and that truth has to be the aim. Because otherwise . . . if you want to try to convince someone that climate change is real (or not), and yet at the same time . . . insist that ‘there is no truth’ . . . well, why would anyone be interested in talking with you? What are you trying to convince anyone of if there’s no truth? Why have a conversation at all?
On the other hand, for the more absolutist-leaning folks, if you want to try to convince someone that you already know the truth—maybe even the whole truth—about whatever it is you are discussing, it would perhaps increase your persuasiveness if you take into account the truth that the topic under discussion may look very different indeed when you are standing in the other person’s shoes.
The truth about our limited grasp on truth
Naturally, we recognize that it can be difficult to discover or determine the truth about many things (especially things as complex as sexuality, economics, or climate, or even our own selves!). We recognize that our limited cognitive capacity obliges us to deal with tentative knowledge and partial truths, leaving the “whole” truth of the matter (sometimes) beyond our reach.
Furthermore, as people we each are positioned differently in life, each with a different personal and family history, physiological make-up, socio-economic status, etc. All these differences, quirks and uniquenesses inevitably stamp their “perspectival” imprint on each of us. A kind of “relativism” (so to speak) is therefore inevitably at play whenever we seek the truth together. Our positions “relative” to each other, and “relative” to the world at large, influence what seems true to us. The cliche, ‘we have different points of view,’ is well warranted—even twins in the same family often hold different perspectives!
Having said all that, however, we would assert that truth itself—reality itself—is not relative to view point. Only our experiences of the truth, and our understandings of the truth, and our expressions of the truth, and our opinions about the truth can vary “relative” to our own personal positions in the world.
Notice that even the sort of “relativism” that we are acknowledging includes serious claims about what is, in fact, true. That is, we are saying that it is true that truth can be difficult to discern. We are saying that it is true that opinions about the truth can vary. We are saying that it is true that the whole truth is elusive. In other words “contextualism” or “relativism” or “perspectivalism” (if not taken too far as we will explain) is real and thus part of the whole truth.
It is, in fact, an important truth (an important fact, an important reality) that multiple perspectives are useful in describing what is truly happening in the world (and in ourselves). The search for the whole truth about any topic is (and by nature must be) a collective enterprise of individual shared experiences. Without this, our collective and individual search for the whole truth can devolve into insular prejudice, fanaticism, and bigotry—or cynical solitude that rejects the possibility of any common human understanding of truth or reality.
Having acknowledged the substantial influence of context and personal experience on all of our perspectives about the truth, we should not, then, fall off the horse on the other side, and go too far in the direction of doubting the knowability of reality, or overestimating the difficulty of either discerning the truth itself or of finding agreement on what we think the truth (of whatever it is we may be discussing) might be.
The basis for purposeful conversation
In a broader sense, we humans find we can know enough of the truth—enough of reality—to accomplish our purposes in an orderly real world together. We test our knowledge of reality in large part by communicating with each other. Thus mutually persuasive conversations with others are vital to expanding our knowledge of truth—of the real world—that will benefit our lives. So when we think or say something is true, we are sticking our necks out and making a “truth claim”—a claim that we know reality (or some part of it). When we honestly say we want the truth, we admit we lack a complete understanding of the truth, and thus desire a more comprehensible and accurate knowledge of reality.
First and foremost, therefore, in spite of the fact—in spite of the truth—that our individual understandings of reality may differ, we argue that the idea that truth itself exists as something common for all people provides the only basis upon which meaningful conversation can proceed. In other words, truth itself—the real world (or the reality of whatever it is we are talking about)—cannot be different for different people. Our opinions and perspectives and narratives about truth can vary, but not truth—not reality—itself. That is the case whether the truth in question is the truth about something as complex and objective as the climate, or the truth about things more subjective (though not necessarily less complex), such as each other’s actual thoughts and feelings and words: “No, I don’t actually think X, but, rather, Y”; “Yes, that’s exactly what I meant!”; “So, you’re not feeling Q, but S?”; “She didn’t say the words ABC, she said, QRT”; “We said V, but meant TRS”; “Can you help me understand what you’re really feeling?” . . . etc.
If truth were not truly common for all people, our opinions about the truth would simply drift apart from each other, unattached to any verifiable reality. There would be nothing—no common reality—for our disparate opinions to converge upon. Perhaps even more dangerously, we would have no way of finding out when we are wrong . . . mistaken . . . in error . . . .
There is no such thing as “my” truth or “your” truth—“my” reality or “your” reality—at least not in any literal sense. “What is,” simply is.
This brings to mind a new spin on the proverbial “blind” men (“blind” as in limited by their individual points of view) in the story about their different experiences of “the elephant” (reality). Each man has a different opinion about “the elephant”: one thinks it is hard and sharp (like the tusk he is holding) and another (holding the leg) thinks the elephant is “really” more like a kind of rubbery (and moving!) tree trunk . . . and so on. Each of these blind men is, of course, partly right. They each possess a part of the truth. Each of them would be mistaken (“wrong”), however, if they were to claim that they have the whole truth about the elephant.
We could add to the story another blind man who happens to be hugging a nearby tree, but who thinks he is hugging the elephant, and thus declares the elephant to be very tree-like indeed . . . hard, cylindrical, but not “rubbery” (or moving) at all, as his “ignorant” neighbor imagines. This poor deluded man is partly right—but only by accident (as the elephant does have some “cylindrical” limbs). The poor man does not even realize that he is hugging a tree.
In other words, there may be a range—a quite wide range—of understandings of reality: from “largely true,” to “partly true,” to “delusional.” But, barring direct revelation from a third party who actually “sees” (a god, prophet, guru, etc.), there is for regular folks only one way out of the ignorance of their common blindness (their limited individual perspectives) imposes upon them: communication. Whole truth-seeking communication.
No such thing as “your” truth or “mine.”
We would argue, in other words, that there is no such thing as “my” truth or “your” truth—“my” reality or “your” reality—at least not in any literal sense. “What is,” simply is. Reality is reality. This is not to deny, once again, the substantial way in which our experiences of reality are shaped and partially created by our various interpretive frames. That, indeed, is also true. But even if the truth were that we all create our own entirely separate worlds, each with its own laws of nature, its own properties, its own “reality,” then that would be the truth.
Next time someone seems to be seriously questioning the reality of the world, or the existence of truth, just reach out and pinch’em—and pinch them hard—and then, when they squirm, ask them why they should react to something that doesn’t exist. Or, better yet, just lie and tell them that you didn’t really pinch them. Let them try to challenge your lie without using the word “true” or “real.” There comes a point, in other words, when mere speculation must be dropped, and actual realities impinging upon us—pinching us even!—need to be faced.
Seeking the whole truth together as the primary work of public life.
This is no mere semantic difference. It has profound consequences for the way we engage with each other. If we enter into a conversation assuming that the truth is common to us both, yet recognizing that we don’t see it the same way, then we can at least begin to compare and contrast our perceptions of reality in order to sift out the truth from error.
For that reason, focusing on the search for the whole truth together is the best way to get past unproductive polarized stalemates. What more helpfully productive project can we imagine than that of seeking, together, “what is”—and who we really are (and what we actually want and need and should do)?
That’s not to say we will want or need the same kinds of things. Indeed, the truth may be that we want different—and incompatible—things . . . or that we ARE incompatible beings (wolves and sheep; lions and gazelles). Even so, if it turns out that the truth is that, on issue X, we want entirely different—and irreconcilable things—at least we will both know this truth, and have this knowledge in common.
This and many other kinds of disagreements might be far more mutually tolerated if we could maintain the shared aim of seeking the truth together as a kind of framework or “conversation agreement” in which to parse matters out. For instance, a climate change “believer” may accuse a climate change “skeptic” of being “crazy,” or “duped,” or “selfish,” or “stupid”—and vice versa. And yet, imagine if they were simply to say instead, “I don’t think your position on—your understanding of—the climate is true because . . . ,” and then simply proceed to lay out their reasons for disagreeing. How might that change the conversation?
The chances of anyone individually, and all of us collectively, coming to a better understanding of the actual truth of the matter seems certain to increase if we actually engage in conversations where the search for the truth is our consciously shared purpose.
For one thing, the focus would be taken off the people and their fraught feelings and judgments about each other, and would instead be placed on something they presumably have in common: not only the truth (reality) itself, but the desire (and the need) to know the truth about the situation. They may not agree on what that truth is, but they do agree that it exists, and that they need to know it.
Having this “third party”—the shared need for truth—at the table, can provide a kind of holder, or a kind of space, within which the people presently at odds with each other can find a common purpose, something they can imagine themselves as working on together: namely, the search for a more accurate or more complete understanding of reality, of the way things actually are, and even a more truthful understanding of each other and of our different points of view . . . i.e. a search for a more complete grasp of the whole truth about the world, ourselves, and each other.
Given the complexity of many of the issues facing us, it is, of course, unlikely that our opinions will always ultimately converge on a shared understanding of reality. Our opinions about reality—our opinions about the truth—may never become reconciled. We must also face the fact that, in our democratic republic, many issues will eventually be resolved (many have already been resolved) through that special coercive apparatus called “the law.” There will, in some cases, be real winners and losers, and the decision of the majority will in fact be imposed on the losers, with or without their willingness.
In other words, force will, ultimately, sometimes be involved, no matter how honest and truthful we are on the path to whatever final decision our republican democracy makes.
But what sort of difference might it make to take a more forthright, truth-full, truth-seeking approach to the conversations/discussions/debates we dearly need to have on the way to “the final vote”?
It seems likely that, at the very least, the chances of basing our final collective decision on a more accurate understanding of reality will be increased if the conversations we have on the way there are, in fact, focused on helping each other to obtain that more truthful understanding. And, surely, that is a good thing. Better, surely, to make laws about marriage or climate change or guns or vaccinations based on the truth (as clearly and accurately as we can understand it), rather than on misunderstandings of reality. Again, while we may not ultimately agree on what that truth is, the chances of anyone individually, and all of us collectively, coming to a better understanding of the actual truth of the matter seems certain to increase if we actually engage in conversations where the search for the truth is our consciously shared purpose.
Ad veritatem, not ad hominem
There is another important benefit to shifting our focus away from our fraught feelings and judgments about each other (ad hominem) and towards whole truth-seeking together (ad veritatem). It may actually help us reassess those negative feelings and judgment.
For example, the gay rights vs. conservative religion debate is often framed in terms of whether a particular belief or policy proposal or personal intention is “loving” or not. And the “capitalism” vs. “socialism” debate is often framed in moral terms as well, with one side ranting about the “greed,” or the “anti-Americanism,” of the other side.
But how do we determine whether something is “loving” or not (or “good” or not) apart from the question of whether it is true or not?
Presumably, any opinion we believe to be worthy of censure cannot be considered to be true, can it?
If, say, a conservative evangelical Christian believes that gay people will, in reality, in fact, in truth face negative eternal consequences unless they change their sexual orientation or at least refrain from acting upon it, then is it not “loving” to warn gay people of a danger they believe to be real? Likewise, if a gay rights activist truly believes that conservative Christian beliefs about homosexuality are both untrue and harmful, then is not fighting those beliefs, in fact, the “loving” thing to do? In other words: If people are acting in good faith upon the basis of what they believe to be true, and yet their notions of what is true differ greatly, then the way they go about showing “love” might also differ greatly. To make the debate about which side is, in fact, “loving” (or which side is “good” or “bad”) misses the underlying rift and the core issue: the difference in the truth claims underlying the different ways they express their love.
Likewise, are capitalists, in truth, “greedy”? Are socialists, in truth, “anti-American”? Moving past those emotionally-charged labels (each of which, presumably, could also be “true”—or not), there is a whole body of experiences and history—and facts—that go into these more global low-resolution “good/bad” judgments. What if we were to turn the conversation towards examining those things—the experiences and histories and facts—primarily in terms of whether or not those experiences reflect actual reality, whether or not those histories are truthful, and whether or not those facts are interpreted truthfully?
Love dies in coercion and thrives in mutual persuasion.
How might the conversation change if it shifted to a more direct engagement on the level of those truth claims?
For one thing, both sides might feel more respected and heard—not agreed with, but heard for the actual truth claims they are making.
The most loving way forward?
People from across the entire political spectrum often characterize our times in apocalyptic terms. What sort of landscape might we end up in in these times of “the End”? Will it be a human species-destroying climate catastrophe; or a final legislative vote which determines the outcome of the culture war; or the final liberation of people from the “opium” of the masses; or “Fire from the Sky” plummeting to earth, sending unbelievers into the Lake of Fire; or the Son of Man or the Mahdi appearing at last to separate sheep from goats; or a final awakening from a dream of conflict into the real world where such conflict never even really happened; or a simple whisper of nothing having emerged from nothing returning to nothing?
However apocalyptically (or mundanely) one conceives of the “the End,” we argue that it behooves us to ask: what difference might it make if we actually try to make “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” not only our oath for speaking in courts of earthly justice, but also our promise to each other as we SEEK together to discover the truth in the broader court of public opinion which will, in fact, eventually determine what happens to all of us in our nation and world.
Seeking and saying the truth together is not child’s play. It will almost certainly lead to change that will trouble all of us as we have to reassess what we had thought to be the truth, “whole” or otherwise. This unsettling of one’s previous understanding to realign with a new understanding of the truth is the psychic price of sincere seeking, after humbly acknowledging that no one (probably) has it all figured out. Each of us—whether conservative or progressive in temperament—should expect to change our views as we learn more of the whole truth. We all, like children, grow wiser as we learn more truth even at age 90.
In the public squares of our country and beyond, the practice of seeking the whole truth together undeniably invites people of all perspectives to engage each other without fear of social contempt from rivals. The practice requires the expression of potentially offensive views as trustworthy opponents meet each other in the good faith search for the whole truth. We have seen this truth-seeking approach work potently, as advocates of rival persuasions that doubted each other’s integrity come to have respectful conversations based on their desire to continually learn more and seek the whole truth, together.
Will the coming years bring a world where coercion is the main force for change or will it be persuasion? This is the truth: love dies in coercion and thrives in mutual persuasion. For those who value love highly, we affirm this truth (while open to criticism) that persuasion contests will produce a better world than coercion conflicts. This means everyone that values love highly should join—”religiously” (if you will)—a never-finished movement for seeking the whole truth together. Conversation is the primary mode of engagement in this sacred work of contestation and collaboration. Give up on ruminating by yourself and join up again in a massive community that agrees to seek, learn, resist and advocate by means of trustworthy mutual persuasion.
To reiterate an earlier warning about truth and persuasion: If individuals abstain from participating in public conversations, the contest will only include biased institutions (large formal groups of people) that have the means to commandeer or purchase our attention, limiting the viewpoints that might yield the whole truth. For this reason, we believe that seeking the truth together should become a normal social responsibility for all citizens. Whatever our worldview, we need to believe in our hearts that the greater truth emerges from open conversations between people that disagree.
As we look ahead at the conflicts over what we should do with our earth and who we should become as humans, this learning will make a difference between life and death. Of course there are possibilities, dreams, aspirations that WILL (without doubt) die one way or the other. Entire worldviews are likely to go the way of the dinosaurs, just as surely as the Cult to Jupiter, the Divine Right of Kings, the Copernican system, Feudalism, Newtonian physics, the White Man’s Colonial ‘Burden,’ The Confederacy, Stalinism, or Maoism, have largely been lost (for a while at least!) in many centuries of culture wars. And, undoubtedly, actual people will die sooner than they might have otherwise, as a result of solutions we adopt to human problems. On the issue of climate change, for instance, if the “believers” are right, failing to act now to curb greenhouse gases may eventually make the earth uninhabitable; if the “skeptics” are right, going too fast in a “green energy” direction might create conditions in which many may die (and lose their freedoms) from economic disaster or authoritarian government overreach.
But what if there is a truth—on one side or the other—that actually saves us all? Maybe even that is a possibility—of large numbers of people reversing course and coming around to see a truth (on one side or another)—that lifts us beyond collective threats.
Since certain memes or ideologies do appear locked in a life-and-death battle, perhaps it’s even possible for particular ideas to die while saving the lives of the actual people who have been fighting for or against them.
If any of this is possible, the larger point is this: we will never know if such a more all-encompassing sort of “salvation” is possible if we are not actually committed to seeking the whole truth together.
Let us think carefully on this. And, in the meantime, we ask you to at least try it.
No matter the qualms that might still exist, we reaffirm that there is no “more loving” path than the path of truth—the path of honest contestation—even battle—on the field of truth-claims. Too much is at stake for us to have as our aim anything less than seeking the whole truth, together.
The Big Invitation: What if . . . we were to engage in important conversations while holding foremost in our hearts and minds the question—“Is what I am saying—is what you are saying—true? ”
What if, instead of thinking to ourselves—
“I like that,” “I don’t like that,” “I agree,” “I disagree,” “That’s good,” “That’s evil,” “That’s racist,” “That’s bigoted,” “That’s compassionate,” “That’s hateful,” “That’s patriotic,” “That’s anti-American,” “That’s reasonable,” “That’s irrational,” “That’s typical of [those people],” “That’s progressive,” “That’s conservative,” “That’s reactionary,” etc., etc—
. . . what if, instead of entertaining such (not-directly-related-to-truth) thoughts, we were to simply and continually remind ourselves to ask one and only one question of everything that is being asserted or stated: “Is it true?”
How might that change the conversation?
We think you’ll find how effectively this steers conversations away from Reaction (“I like, I don’t like”) and towards Understanding and whole-truth-seeking. Try it! Next time you find yourself in a conversation that is floundering, or “getting out of hand,” just take a deep breath and turn your attention to seeking the whole truth, together, and see what happens.
For one thing, we expect you’ll find that you will almost automatically go into “inquiry” mode, because you will probably realize that you don’t fully understand where the other person is coming from. We expect you’ll also find yourself wanting to find better ways to communicate your own ideas so that they are more persuasive. You’ll probably also begin to suspect that your own ideas may need some development, or even some correcting. You’ll probably also notice how often the desire to “win” the argument creeps in, and what an obstacle to whole truth seeking that can be. So much changes! . . . once attention has been shifted (and re-shifted, and re-shifted again . . . and yet again . . . ) to seeking . . . the whole . . . truth . . . together.