On its surface, “truthfulness” seems like an open and shut case, but in many instances – it’s too “open.” There are some scientific facts that are — so far — undeniably true. Until further notice, the earth IS round. And yes – you either appeared at the XYZ train station at 10:00 a.m. last Tuesday or you didn’t. These kinds of truths seem non negotiable.
But there are truths subject to a nuanced “interpretation’ which raises the question, did you really intend to say that horrible thing about me? Yes, I can prove you said it—that is the truth, even after you tell me that you didn’t mean it. But the fact that you said it – is a truth.
Escalating this to another level — there are too many legitimate “your truths” and “my truths.” I see this as being particularly in play, as I teach my memoir writing class – and note how memory can distort events. Mother: “My (now) 40 year old son played hooky half of his high school senior year.” Son: “Mom! That’s not true – I was studying in the library all that time.”
This hot issue of TRUTH can be really wiggly, but certainly needs to have some parameters where two parties can agree when irrefutable facts can be shown to exist. This is as important in a free society as health care, infrastructure, immigration issues, global warming and the rest. We may need a Secretary of Truth to —- oops – wait a minute — sounds kinda like what our Judicial system takes on in instances of significance. And then it becomes matters of “opinion.” But opinion does not equate to truth.
So even as I ponder the smoldering discrepancies regarding “ truth” that seem to be tearing our country apart, and in recognition of this symbolic week, I am tossed back two plus centuries with these famous words ringing in my ears : “We hold these truths to be self evident…” from our venerated Declaration Of Independence. Even these original truths considered to be “ self evident” have evolved: “all men are created equal” — this includes both men and women, as well as people of all races and sexual preferences — a “truth” which somehow eluded our founding fathers– “and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among those are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Again — the years have expanded the meaning of each of those three entities to the point where they have been dissected and analyzed and debated, in a sense diminishing their power as agents of “truth.” as in :- “what is life? When does it begin? Does it include the “right” to health care? Does “Liberty” include the right to be secure in the color of your skin? Does the pursuit of “Happiness” include allowing corruption and assorted other anti social behaviors in the name of that pursuit?
Even “self evident” truth comes to a dead end as it becomes nit picked – and in the end “intent” is thought to be one of the best signifiers of truth — and there again we can all think of many contrary angles to that. So we will forever have “your” truth and “my” truth and “the” truth.
And here’s one of the truths we have come revere: “Truth will set you free.” (Unless it lands you in jail)
I hope you had a good July 4th holiday – and that IS the truth