The truth. It has become a suspect commodity these days, I’m afraid. In today’s news alone, I have heard these events presented in national media reports: a prominent U.S. congressional representative claims, without any known foundation in fact, that one of her colleagues, a Muslim, has ties with a radical political group in the Middles East; a well-known television commentator, latching onto the assertion, characterizes the Muslim Congressman as “the Mafia hit man;” a deranged graduate student in Colorado enters a movie theater and shoots scores of patrons; the statue of a long-revered university sports coach is removed from its central place of honor on campus following allegations of impropriety and deliberate cover-up; Norway observes the one-year anniversary of an attack by a man claiming that multiculturalism in that country warranted the deaths of 77 innocent people. The list could go on, endless in its length as well as its variety. And what all of these topics share in common is that the central tenet in each of these cases is “truth.” Each primary actor in the stories mentioned above acted according to his/her version of the truth. It’s a scary realization.
Each of us is a product of the genetics, experiences, education, socialization and myths of our own lives. Our makeup is determined by that with which we were born and that which we have encountered along the way of life. And since no two people can be said to be precisely alike as related to both their genetics and experiences, it should be no surprise that we all experience the world in different ways. Our perspectives are necessarily different, even if only in seemingly slight ways, because the combination of elements which inform us is different.
These differences are gifts, making up the incredibly rich and magnificent diversity of the human experience. They drive our curiosity, fuel an insatiable need to understand our existence at both a molecular and an existential level, prompt our visions of what the future can be. But they’re also a burden, as when one truth conflicts with another truth, and the respective believers cannot be reconciled. Ironically, all too often such an impasse leads to conflict wherein “truth,” or someone’s version of it, becomes used as a weapon. Truth can move from being a virtue to a destructive force, tearing at the fabric of someone else’s truth. It does not have to be in the context of headline-generating issues, but can be found in the every-day matters of our lives.
By definition, then, we can never capture an absolute truth. No one has a monopoly on the truth, or even an absolute advantage in discerning it. Not the United States. Not Republicans. Not Democrats. Not Nicaragua. Not Christians nor Muslims nor Jews. Not the wealthy, not the poor. We are all subject to the evolution of what we perceive as the truth, and that process is as dynamic as the forces which shape our realities. The best that we can do is to continually strive to sharpen the perceptions and understandings which make up our truth, within the context of what others experience as true. It’s our calling as human beings. And when our respective truths collide, that collision is a signal that neither view is completely accurate and there is good reason to go looking for yet another iteration. In that evolutionary process, anyone claiming to own the absolute truth is devoid of the strength, persistence and credibility needed for discovery of what is true.
None of this is to suggest that the purported “truths” of mudslinging politicians, self-serving pundits, crazed murderers or egomaniacal sports figures bear any likeness to reality or that such pontificants have any basis to be excused. Each represents an egregious lack of decency in hijacking and distorting any semblance of truth; sometimes truth is deliberately warped for personal aggrandizement. But even as we condemn the actions of such distorters of the truth, we need to perform our own self-examination of the poisons, misrepresentations, biases and hatreds that drive our personal versions of the truth. It’s nothing less than what we do in examining our physical selves for signs of disease, in search of healing and wholeness. None of us can ever be as well as we can be, as long as others are not well. Likewise, none of us will ever know the whole truth and nothing but the truth, without trying to know the truths of others….