The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

6 October 2018

You hear this oath every time someone is about to give testimony in a courtroom setting. I could add the rest of it; “so help me, God” but regrettably our culture has long since ceased to use God as a measuring stick for anything. The question then becomes; what version of the truth are we about to hear? The problem is that Truth (capital T) doesn’t have versions; it is absolute much like what happens when you accidentally try to pick up a hot skillet. There are no versions, just reality.

True: in accordance with fact or reality, what actually/really happened

Truth: the quality or state of being true. That which is true or in accordance with fact or reality

Pop culture tells us thatright hand truth is simply your own version of reality. The idea that truth is relative, pliable to meet one’s view of reality, or situational is a sad commentary on the human condition and how reality is perceived and subsequently valued. The absence of truth leads to no rights and wrongs, no true or false, no lies, no facts … no nothing. It becomes the springboard for an ‘anything goes’ society.

As a society we have bastardized the very essence of truth as a core element of civilization wherein laws are enacted, reputations are established, business is conducted, wrongs are adjudicated, information is disseminated, and common discourse is accepted. Our culture seems to have accepted not telling the truth as a normal course of human behavior. What is even worse is that in accepting whatever someone says as being true we exhibit an abject laziness in not seeking what is verifiable and thereby, truly real.

Several years ago I heard of an experiment which I proceeded to try on my own. I was to go about my normal daily activities and then, at lunch, review my conversations from the morning. I was to count the number of times I didn’t tell the whole truth but rather exaggerated, spun the facts, replaced fact with opinion, or flat out lied. I was amazed at how tragically I had failed in just 5 hours by simply not telling the Truth. My epic failure suddenly became a crusade for me. Truth became such a big deal that this introspection exercise became a persistent ritual. With a new perspective on my own behavior, I began developing filters while listening to others who hadn’t experienced their own epic failure.

Our culture has lionized certain figures; athletes, politicians, celebrities, business icons, media personalities. When they say something, we assume it to be grounded in truth. Trump, Obama, Clinton, Nixon, Ted Kennedy, Gen. Petraeus, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Bill O’Reilly, Brian Williams, Martha Stewart, Harvey Weinstein, Andrew McCabe, tobacco industry and big pharma all gave their versions of the truth when it appeared they could get away with it. As it typically does, the real truth eventually emerged and they all paid a significant price of some sort.

The recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Supreme Court nominee Bret Kavanaugh was an embarrassing American spectacle by any definition but especially illustrative where truth and fiction are concerned. No matter which side one took there were conflicts in what turned out to be a ‘he said – she said’ battle of reality. Ironically, we were reminded how far our politics has devolved when an arbiter of truth was Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Dem-CT.). Listening to him lecture Judge Kavanaugh on the subject of truth was rich while remembering he played the lead character in a case of stolen valor.

Credibility and believability cannot become replacements for what is true yet we have reached a point in our culture where that seems to be the case. One has to wonder if we even care about truth anymore. People lie to each other with impunity; on TV and social media, to authorities, even in court under oath. Perjury, slander and libel laws and penalties have been on the books for a long time but indictments and convictions for lying are extremely rare. The reason? They’re very tough to litigate because the legal hurdles of intent, interpretation, and subjectivity swallow up the ‘whole truth and nothing but the truth’.

Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election with a theme of making American great again. He may be able to accomplish this on the economic and foreign policy front but on the social and cultural front, America has all the symptoms of a culture in decline when reality and truth become moving targets.

 

 

 

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