POSTED ON NOVEMBER 7, 2012:
Why the truth still matters
Years ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court was deciding a case involving pornography, one of the justices stated, "I'm not sure I can define it, but I know it when I see it." After months of political campaigns, some might say the same thing can be said regarding what's really the truth. Has truth telling really become our 50 shades of gray? Do we need to resign ourselves to the fact that, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Pretty much all the honest truth telling in the world is done by children"?
How and why did we lose truth telling? When was it decided that having and giving an opinion is more important than fact finding? As it is, when one asserts their opinion is stated as the truth of the matter at hand. If finding the truth is labor intensive, when did some people get so lazy at this important work? And how have we convinced ourselves and others that whatever opinion we may have is a statement of the truth? Have we gotten that narcissistic?
Anyone who has ever been in a court of law knows that before you speak as a witness you must take the oath of truth and swear to its three tenets: to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth "so help me God." Somehow we have allowed those in public life and those in the media to get by with following one or maybe two of these three tenants. They tell the partial truth as they believe it to be, but they don't tell the whole truth particularly in situations where telling the whole truth would defeat their agenda or cover up another lie or deception. So they intentionally leave out part of the whole truth. At that point it's not really about the integrity of telling the truth, rather it's about their mission to defame, discredit, defeat and destroy something or someone they have a personal agenda or vendetta against or to lift themselves out of the sorry state of their own situation.
Unfortunately, in a society founded upon freedom of speech, we can't really make those in public life or those in the media take the oath of truth and then hope to deliver consequences when they are caught breaking their oath. As Winston Churchill said: "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened." Maybe Churchill knew of the coming computer age and the swiftness in which information, true or false, would travel when he said, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on."
Doesn't this sound a bit like what we were told about the killing of the ambassador in Libya?
Just imagine what would happen if, for one day, anyone in the world who told a lie would have what they believed to be the most important part of their body fall off! (Men, you know what I'm talking about.) Or if everyone had one day of "Pinocchio syndrome" where something on your body grew way out of portion?
The point is that there is no longer any consequence for not being truthful because opinion has taken the place of truthfulness. Today, the approach is: If I think it, it must be true. Even if you are more knowledgeable or informed than whomever you are speaking with, they may consider you untruthful because they believe no one can know more than they do, therefore you must be a liar.
Telling the truth sounds simple but, in some cases, it really isn't. People don't do it to avoid harm and to produce benefits for fairness and veracity itself. Sincerity is a virtue, yet lies are sometimes in the best interest of the liar.
Consider, for instance, during World War II when a Polish farmer hid many Jewish citizens in his barn and, when confronted by the Nazi troops searching for Jewish citizens, said there were none on his property. Is it okay to lie in the protection of others?
Our deeming sincerity a virtue may be due to the fact that each of us is better off in a society in which people are truthful most of the time than we would be in a society in which people lie as often as they tell the truth. It's been said that it's easy to tell one lie but hard to tell only one.
Some believe that lying occurs when the liar is afraid of something if he tells the truth. Reputed mobster John Gotti once said, "I never lie -- because I don't fear anyone. You only lie when you're afraid." And Thomas Jefferson believed that "honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom."
What has really happened to us is that in a time when people appear so angry so often and relish attacking one another, we are all afraid of our vulnerability. We're afraid to say "I'm sorry," or "I was wrong," or "Will you forgive me," because we believe that exposes a weakness that will be punished or exploited.
Maybe what we have really lost is that most basic of human nature to treat each other with the type of honesty that would bring the peace we all need. The real truth is that most of us have such a decent character core that this type of vulnerable confession can actually endear us to each other. At some point all of us have to recognize that there was only one perfect person to ever walk this earth, and its none of us.
As E.V. Lucas said: "The truth is the only thing worth having and, in a civilized life, like ours, where so many risks are removed, facing it is almost the only courageous thing left to do."
America was founded on courage. Courage isn't only found in the battlefield of combat but in the combat of our daily lives as we put our efforts towards making our lives something that really matters. We all would like to think we will leave something behind so people in the future will know we were here.
Maybe having the legacy of being known as a truthful person is the best thing we can do and leave. We should all remember that the truth shall set you free.
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