Truth. One of the most important ideals we have. We need it for society to function. Without it things would be quite chaotic. But is the truth infallible? Is the truth always right?
Before we can discuss truth, and whether it is always right, it helps to know just what exactly truth is. The Collins English Dictionary will tell you this about truth: ‘The truth about something is all the facts about it, rather than things that are imagined or invented’.
In his book, ‘Talking To Strangers’, Malcolm Gladwell writes about how we, as people, usually default to truth. We believe in the natural good in people. In each other. This trait, he says, ‘is the trait that has created modern society’.
I agree with his belief. Truth is fundamental for a cohesive society. I’m the type of person who believes we are, mostly, fundamentally good. But does that mean the truth is always right?
Truth according to the Collins English Dictionary :
The quality of being true, genuine, actual, or factual.
Something that is true as opposed to false.
A proven or verified principle or statement.
A system of concepts purporting to represent some aspect of the world.
Fidelity to a required standard or law.
Faithful reproduction or portrayal.
An obvious fact; truism; platitude.
Honesty, reliability, or veracity.
Accuracy, as in the setting, adjustment, or position of something, such as a mechanical instrument.
The state or quality of being faithful; allegiance.
Some Problems With Truth
Truth encounters a slight complication when you look at perception and reality. For a truth to be true it needs a benchmark. A point that is agreeable to all as being correct. But how can we all agree on what might be true when we don’t even understand what our reality is? When perception might be shaping that reality. With one perception different from the next. One reality slightly altered from the next. How can we agree on what is true?
Can the truth always be right when the reality it is based on can’t arguably be agreed on?
Ok, so the reality argument is a bit of a cop out. Regardless of the philosophical viewpoint we all can agree on the reality we experience. For example, if someone punched me on the nose I would have a sore nose and they would have a sore hand. There’s no debating that reality. That truth. It is what it is.
So assuming we all agree on what truth is how can it possibly be wrong?
Truth As A Weapon
Some people use truth as a weapon. A method to hurt and upset. They might hide behind the guise that they are only telling the ‘truth’. Speaking facts. Pointing out the obvious.
And that might be true. Nothing they’ve said could be called factually incorrect. But the intention behind the words, their truth, is to put the other person down. To reprimand or cause pain. It is not being employed in a positive or constructive manner.
Truth in this way is only ever hurtful. And the people who weild their truths in such a manner are of the worst kind. They are usually secure in their self-assured wisdom of that ‘truth’ they are weilding. For them it’s unimaginable to think how they are the lesser person. How could they be? What could be wrong with telling the truth? Truth is the side of righteousness. A path on which only the purest can tread true. What kind of person are you if you dispute the truth?
How can the truth be right when it is employed in such a way?
The Truth About Yourself
We all like to think we know ourselves. That at the very least we are truthful with ourselves about ourselves. And mostly we do. We are. But even then sometimes we might ignore the truth about oursleves.
Take myself for example. I’m a below average man in terms of looks, height and wealth. I know that. Right now that’s my truth. But do you think I want to remind myself of that truth everyday? Hell no! I’m happy ignoring those truths.
Do I want to look in the mirror and see all those truthful wrinkles, the one ear which is bigger than the other, my big nose. Or do I want to look at myself, ignore those truths, and focus on other things instead.
Dwelling on your truths. Especially the ones you can do nothing about will cause you nothing but harm. Is the truth always right in this situation? Or is it best left out of the picture?
For some harsh truths that can’t be changed we don’t need a daily reminder. Some truths are best forgotten. Best pushed to the side. Best ignored. Sometimes we are happier with our own conception of ourselves and not necessarily the cold, hard facts. Sometimes that illusion we have of ourselves is the only thing that keeps us going, makes us feel good about ourselves. And that’s ok.
There’s no doubting that truth is an essential part of life, of society. It builds trust, fosters relationships, binds us together. But maybe truth isn’t the complete answer. Maybe it has its place like everything else and is best used in the right time and place. It’s not here to be used to hurt and maim but instead should be used to educate and elevate.
Know your truths. And listen to them accordingly. Choose which are best met head on and which can be safely cast aside. Not all truths are valuable. Not all truths always right. It’s up to you to decide.