The problem with telling lies, is it can easily become a lifelong habit. The people I respect least in the world have spouted a litany of lies that obscure the concept of truth in their own minds. And, as every wise grandmother, Shakespeare and popular fiction will tell you – lies always surface.
Plato’s notion of truth has been used by Christians for many generations to explain the existence of God, or the transcendence beyond the external world of the senses to greater illumination seen by the soul. I am not discounting this greater notion of truth or dismissing the power of the concept, but it is not what I have been recently pondering about truth. I have just been reflecting on the things that come out of our mouths that are verifiably true or false, and the subsequent justification that we provide. Sometimes things are just true or false and nothing else. Apparently, the term truth bearer describes this concept.
Aristotle defined truth as how we use logic and reason to decide how we act. This seems to be the basis for the slippery slope that we exist on. The rationale is usually to get ahead in an overwhelming competitive line or save face. In this case, anything and everything spouted can be provided as truth, as long as it is not verifiable as false or embraced as truth by those predisposed to accept it. One example of this is padding a resume. Another example of this is the ramblings of a politician, prolific on Twitter, who has been able to identify with his supporters on some level that does not require verifiable truth. Fake news abounds. Verifiable truth is presented and dismissed as irrelevant. Perhaps Kate Atkinson calls it in her book Transcription: “People always sa[y] they [want] the truth, but really they [are] perfectly content with a facsimile.”
Another slippery slope has been the notion of “truth to self”. Whereas I agree the notion that two people can experience similar situations and view them differently based on their background knowledge, I have also seen it used as a cop out. If you are truly going to keep yourself accountable to the truth, you need to analyse the situation rather than simply justify your own perceptions. Sometimes my feelings are hurt or my conclusions are wrong. Yet sometimes when I analyse the situation, I am able to identify my own misreading of the cues or the egocentricism or the overt Machiavellian intent which can result in misunderstanding, manipulation and/or lies utilized to save face or further an agenda. I am proposing that we hold ourselves accountable for our own rationale for lies, white or other, as well as our perceptions by reflecting rather than simply engaging in the process of justifying our initial responses.
As an elementary school principal, I frequently deal with students who have made inappropriate choices. My philosophy is that no one is expected to be perfect and tomorrow is a new opportunity to make good choices, however it comes with some very basic caveats in dealing with the situation:
- Calm down first.
Take responsibility for using the strategies that work for you to self-calm and allow your brain to move beyond “flight or fight” mode and engage in problem solving.
2. Own your choices. Admit your mistakes.
Hiding behind justifications for inappropriate behaviour is not taking responsibility for the choices you made.
3. Ask yourself: “Is this who you want to be in the world?
4. Determine how you could have better handled the situation.
Come up with a plan of what you will do next time if a similar situation happens
5. Repair the relationship.
Admit your bad choice without excuses. State clearly how you felt in the interaction and how you will handle a situation like that in the future. Don’t expect forgiveness to be a right. Now that you know better. Do better.
My students quickly learn that I have no tolerance for someone looking into my eyes and lying. It diminishes both our relationship and his/her integrity. Khaled Hosseini states it best in The Kite Runner: “When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth.” A lie represents a second bad choice when it comes out of your mouth and you must begin the arduous and misguided process of justifying it to yourself. I suppose my end goal us to reach kids to be the best version of themselves.
So yes, truth does matter. Philosophers, scientists, artists, theologians, you and I are required to continue to grapple with the truth and celebrate it, in order to preserve the best in each of us. In the end we choose who we want to be in the world. We also choose the example we want our kids to live by. Live like truth matters. A valiant challenge for 2020.