In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary actGeorge Orwell
Truth matters. It matters because basing our thoughts, words and actions on falsehood is asking for trouble. Truth is like light: it enables us to see clearly, it banishes darkness, but it can be snuffed out and then we’re left in the dark.
Let’s explore the background, why am I writing about truth at this particular time? And why am I writing about it at all? I’m writing about it at this particular time because truth seems to be valued by fewer people than ever before. There have always been those who trample on truth, but we do seem to be living at a time when peddling falsehoods has become pandemic. Perhaps the most obvious examples are in the political sphere, where governments and their opponents have sometimes made claims based on almost anything other than the simple facts. Policies and decisions are being made on the basis of opinion, personal ambition, whim, wishful thinking, and even denial of clear evidence. I’m writing about it because it matters. It really does. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Is this a new phenomenon? No, people have always made things up, sometimes to fill gaps in what is known, sometimes to deny what is known because it’s distasteful or hard to deal with, or for the base motives that are common, if we’re honest, to all of us – greed, self preservation, shame, fear and the rest. Survival, self-respect, money and power are important to us – sometimes important enough that we will cheat, lie, and ignore inconvenient truths that are staring us in the face.
So why does it matter?
(I said we’d get to that.)
The answer is really quite simple. If I’m given misinformation and base my thoughts, words and actions on that, sooner or later I’ll run into a problem. You can’t avoid the truth indefinitely, it will come back and bite you. Misinformation leads inevitably to error and confusion.
Imagine a map that shows a bridge across a river. An ambulance crew see that the bridge provides a valuable short cut to reach a seriously ill patient in half the time. But when they arrive at the river – there is no bridge. They have to retrace their journey and try a different way, but they are too late and the patient dies. Truth matters, and it can be critically important, even to the point of life or death.
Or imagine a general fighting a battle. He is told by his spies that the enemy is almost out of ammunition; he decides to mount an immediate attack, before new supplies can reach his opponents. If the spies’ report is true, he will win the battle easily. If they made it all up and it’s false, he might be heavily defeated. Does truth make a difference? Yes – because it leads to right action. This is why intelligence and counter intelligence matter; if you can feed falsehoods to your enemy and they believe them, they may well make a serious blunder.
Unfortunately, this strategy to deceive and confuse is now being applied, not to the enemy, but within our society. We should be friends speaking the truth to one another, but much of the untruth flying around these days seems deliberate and causes serious difficulty for all of us. It’s become a bad habit. Who should I believe? Which ‘facts’ can I depend upon? How can I check? How should we deal with this difficulty? Here are some suggestions.
Dealing with it
- Be sceptical of assertions – in other words, ask people for evidence
- Don’t accept claims without supporting evidence
- Remember that lots of people saying something doesn’t make it more true
- Use fact checking websites
- Beware of false claims presented as evidence
- Treat people with respect and kindness even if they are making false claims
- Avoid shouting matches, loudness doesn’t prove anything.
So what is the take away message here? We can all make a difference for better or worse. Search for the truth in every situation, look for evidence, listen to what people say but don’t accept anything without evidence of some kind (this might be evidence about the claims being made or it might be evidence that the person making the claims is reliable and usually speaks the truth). Then base any decisions or choices on the truth, never on claims you know to be false. Never deliberately mislead others (unless you are a general fighting a war). And always bear in mind that people with an agenda may sometimes behave like an enemy general. They may see you as the enemy and will misinform you if they think it will help them in some way. The world is a wonderful place, but it can also be a deceptive and dangerous place. Go in peace, but go very carefully!
Let’s base our lives on what is true, and not on what is false. Even though it’s sometimes hard to tell what is, or is not, true – it’s always worth making the attempt. And let’s remember that truth will never let us down. Untruth is just as reliable – it will always let us down in the end. No wonder Jesus said. ‘The truth will set you free’ (John 8:32). He was talking particularly about spiritual truth, but it’s a valid statement for truth in general. And let’s also bear in mind that science is a search for truth, and all the technology we depend on every day works only because it stands on that foundation of truth.
Whether we turn to the spiritual or the physical realm, we can only rely upon what is true. Truth is a thing of beauty, but deceit is ugly beyond measure. Choose beauty. Choose the light. Choose truth!