Writing Right with Dmitri: Your Truth, My Truth, Everybody's Truth
A few weeks ago, I got everybody outraged about evil. I wasn't too happy about it – not because I mind in the least that people have different opinions, which is partly what this week's column is about, but because we couldn't seem to agree on enough definitions to even start to make headway on the subject. I began to think that Dietrich Bonhoeffer had hit the nail on the head when he wrote, 'There is no way from one person to another.' Maybe we're all in our own bubbles. On the other hand….
So, in the spirit of an arrow at a venture, I'm going to tackle truth this week, because I never learn, I guess.
Have you heard the phrase 'their truth' a lot lately? I have. As in, 'They've got to tell their truth.' I'm pretty sure I know what is meant by the phrase – which is basically 'describe life as they experience it' – but it's made me think about the idea of 'truth', and what people mean by it.
Truth is truth to the end of all reckoning.
Facts are the enemy of truth.
Dale Wasserman, speaking as Cervantes/Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha
Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
Jesus of Nazareth
What is truth?
Pontius Pilatus, to Jesus of Nazareth
I am the way, the truth, and the life.
Jesus of Nazareth, to the planet at large.
Is truth a compilation of facts? No. Is truth something that can vary by person? Yes. Can a person have what is called 'their truth'? Sure they can. You absolutely cannot attempt to force your version of reality on another. Not only is that the beginning of all tyranny, it's a futile gesture. As Schiller said, stick me in a cell if you like, but my thoughts will break walls.
I was waiting for Elektra this afternoon over at the hospital test place. I was trying to read a book. Alas, the waiting room was equipped with a television set. To my horror, the set was turned to Fox News. Whoever put that channel on has no idea, absolutely none at all, what Fox News sounds like to someone who never watches it and hasn't seen it for years. What it sounded like was something out of a dystopian novel. Say, The Man in the High Castle. Or Fahrenheit 451. I have actually been in communist dictatorships where the television wasn't as bad as that.
That 'news' station isn't just junk. There's a crime being committed on it every minute it's broadcasting. That crime is the attempt to browbeat its audience into accepting the Fox News version of truth. They want their viewers to start filtering reality the way they do, so they can sell more products. There was a blonde woman talking. (There always is, it seems.) I thought she was saying, 'Cousins: the criminal Montag is loose, go and stand at your doors….' I almost looked around for Oskar Werner on the lam from the Firemen.
It's like that other saying that's going around: 'You're entitled to your own opinion. But you aren't entitled to your own facts.' Facts are things you can verify. Hypotheses are propositions you can test. Theories are working models that may change with time and increased understanding. Beliefs are personal theories that you test by living them out. You hope you picked the right ones. If you find enough evidence to the contrary, you may change your beliefs.
I continue in my personal belief in the work of the Holy Spirit because of my experience, and not in spite of it. While I might (and would) invite others to have the same experience, I cannot insist they believe my second-hand accounts. That would be arrogant and silly. I can only point in the direction of what I have found to be the source of my experience. I can only hope that my life is some kind of witness to my personal truth.
When you write, you can only tell your truth: the one you're living out. You should try to do so as clearly and honestly as possible. You shouldn't expect everyone who reads to agree with you. The fact that they don't doesn't automatically make them stupid, or contrary, or not worth your time. You may know something they don't. They may know something you don't. You may both be wrong, or partially right. Being wrong is not a fatal character flaw. It's also not the end of the world. Climate change might be the end of the world, but someone being wrong on the internet just means it's Tuesday.
What you should try to do with your truth is to share it as reasonably as possible. Inasmuch as lieth in you, as the old scripture sayeth, live peaceably with all men. And women, and small furry creatures. It's amazing how much we can learn once we stop being afraid of being wrong about something.