June 11, 2020

Educated, by Tara Westover, is the harrowing true story of her rise from an abusive, unstable, uneducated childhood to a Cambridge and Harvard education, earning a PhD in history. Westover’s writing is powerful in the way that it tells her truth from her own perspective while acknowledging that her truth is different from others, and that neither version is precisely wrong or right.

Our truths are different

Several times throughout the book, Westover recounts an experience of trauma as she remembered it or as it was documented in her childhood journals. Immediately following, she added a footnote that a brother or a friend remembered certain details entirely differently. In some cases, people around her originally remembered it exactly as she did, and then due to fear, retracted their version or changed their truth. Westover acknowledges all of this simply as the fact that our own truths are often very different than others and influenced by many factors – not something to argue or resent, just something to accept as it is.

Our truths are based on our own perspectives and knowledge

Westover’s first formal education occurred when she was accepted to and enrolled at Brigham Young University at the age of 16. During her years there, she first learned of world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Events nearly all of us accept as common knowledge were unknown to her. She felt humiliated when she raised her hand and asked what “holocaust” meant as she was unfamiliar with the word. When she first learned of Rosa Parks, her limited knowledge led her to believe Parks had literally “taken a seat” – as in, picked up a seat and stole it off the bus. As Westover’s education explodes, she is able to reflect on words and experiences from her life at home and see cruelty, fear and ignorance that she had never previously recognized as unacceptable.

Our truths change with education and experience

As an adult rereading her journals, Westover begins to see her life’s experiences with a newly-informed perspective. Through her travels and her exceptional education, she acquired a new framework for what she decides is acceptable and what is intolerable. Along her journey, she recognizes the moments where she began to show doubt for what she had always known as true and she believes that these were her openings for growth. Westover reconciles within herself that what she once believed as truth has been dug up and recrafted for how she now sees it.

As these world events unfold around us, Westover’s story reminds us how vastly different our personal truths are and how hard it is to see another’s truth when it is so distinct from our own. We will never have the same experiences, education and context others have – how do we push ourselves to grow appreciation and understanding of others’ truths?