Whatever Happened To Truth?

Mark Twain once remarked, “if you tell the truth you don’t have to remembertruth anything”. In these days of 24/7 news coverage, LexisNexis research tools, and the ubiquitous microphone, one might ask why anyone wouldn’t take Twain’s advice as untruths can be so easily exposed. Apparently politicians didn’t get that memo as they continue to speak as though no one will know, remember, or think to do some research.

 

When you boil the problems of the world down you come up with just a few simple, root causes. One of them is the concept of basic truth and the trustworthiness that is erased when it is disregarded.  Of all the elements of life that are put in jeopardy when truth and honesty are discarded the most critical one is the person to person relationship which is the hinge pin on which society succeeds or fails. Foreign ministers to presidents, politicians to constituents, CEO’s to employees, defendants to jurors, spouses to each other, parents and teachers to kids; when truth breaks down, dysfunction sets in. At that point society doesn’t really know  who or what to believe anymore.

It seems that truth and honesty based on known facts are increasingly in short supply. Every bit of information we base our decisions on immediately becomes subject to interpretation, spin, opinion, bias, exaggeration, and hyperbole. Can you really believe the nightly news, politicians, the president, a corporate CEO, your financial advisor, your boss, your kids? And if the decisions we make each day are not built on a foundation of truth what good are they? Isn’t this especially the case during each political election season where the same set of ‘facts’ are spun from different directions and fed to us as ‘the truth’? How sad is it that questioning the truth of even the most mundane assertions should be an undercurrent when we consider those whom we choose to lead us or how we should be governed. 

My young adult life was spent as a Naval Aviator. I was steeped in a culture of mutual trust where any variation from truth and honesty is the enemy. When the admiral, the ‘Skipper’, or formation leader said something, we believed it. It was taken as the truth, a foundation to act. No need to question or do further research. Is that to say the military produces robots? Much to the contrary, as those in military authority learn early on that their words have power and with that power comes consequences, sometimes dire, if the message is ambiguous, false, or distorted.

There remains a vestige of this ethos in pockets of civilian life as well. Surprisingly enough during an episode of Trump’s reality show, The Apprentice, The Donald remarked in the boardroom that one of his pet peeves in the business world is people that exaggerate. Not surprisingly, the person who evoked that remark received the dreaded, “You’re fired”. How often do you have to insert a ‘truth filter’ into conversations with people you know to exaggerate, distort, or spin information? Probably too often. In the truest sense of the word, aren’t exaggerations simply lies on a small, non malicious scale?

Mark Twain once remarked, “if you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything”. In these days of 24/7 news coverage, LexisNexis research tools, and the ubiquitous microphone, one might ask why anyone wouldn’t take Twain’s advice as untruths can be so easily exposed. Apparently politicians didn’t get that memo as they continue to speak as though no one will know, remember, or think to do some research.

But let’s not hold just the politicians in such low regard for their truth quotient. How about the corporate world where balance sheets and numbers are massaged to skew an outcome or projection. Or the closed door negotiations of government officials that promise things they knowingly can’t deliver and then spin the outcome to whatever is most palatable and expedient at the time. And then there’s the spouse that covers up involvement in something detrimental to the relationship. When the concept of truth is broken down into bite size pieces it becomes immediately evident that those everyday events where truth is not a priority seem to happen at an alarming rate. Over time this colors our society in more gray paint in areas where we would be better with basic black and white.

Interestingly enough, television provides a classic example of unadulterated factual truth that is marketed side by side with spin. It’s found in pharmaceutical advertising for prescription drugs where they break away from the marketing spin to recite the known facts about any drug implications that may either kill you or make you call a doctor after 4 hours. Ironically, if you’re like me you get second thoughts about using the drug after hearing the truth. But alas that truth is quickly buffered away as the final 8-10 seconds of the commercial is back to marketing the truth for easier consumption with bliss in twin bath tubs, smiling faces, or a confident ‘thumbs up’.  

“Telling the truth”? “Come on BasicMan, is this really a subject that deserves 1000 words”?

You’re probably thinking, “it’s a good thing this truth thing isn’t my problem”. Really? You’d be in an extremely small minority if that were the case. I once heard an AM radio psychology talking head describe a useful exercise. I was challenged to go an hour at work or in a social situation without telling a lie, exaggerating the truth, or even considering to do so. Easy, right?  I tried and failed miserably. We’ve become so preconditioned to distort the truth ever so slightly that most people are amazed at how difficult it is to follow that simple instruction.  The next step was to go three hours, then a morning, an afternoon, a whole day. If you got that far you were on your way to becoming a reformed liar (akin to a reformed smoker) where even the thought of distortion or exaggeration in a conversation becomes distasteful.

It’s at that point I realized how central one of the most fundamental elements of a persons’ character is to a properly functioning family, community, nation, and world.

Yes, I think truth is worth 1000 words, give or take.

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2 Responses

  1. well said, nicely put, and you have good insights to the reality of our world.
    If it isn’t spun, exagerrated, embellished, it is “agendized”. Perception is an amazing concept. ‘Taking it personally’ is usually the culprit, as well as ‘making assumptions’. Where is the integrity, never mind the truth. Where is respect, never mind the truth. Where is honesty, never mind the truth.

  2. Agreed….a great insight, and as key to our ordered liberty and desirable existence as water is.

    I read this after once again addressing the role of the MRRA and its “negotiations” with Oxford Aviation over possible occupancy of the crown jewel at Brunswick Naval Air Station.

    It is rife with misrepresentations, secrecy, posturing and all sorts of “variations” on integrity and truth.

    All in the name of “public interest.”

    Which reminds me of the point that if we had honesty in today’s discourse, the term “public servant” would be declared politically incorrect.

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