Lies, and our odd relationship with truth
There is a lot of attention right now on the US government
lying to We the People, probably with intention to mislead. In
some circles there is also dismay (and cynicism) at the ability
(and sometimes apparent eagerness) of We the People to be misled.
There are many political dimensions to this, being reported
by many qualified commentators. But here I want to dig a bit
into our odd relationship with truth. It is a complex relationship
and, I think, an important one to pay attention to.
Much courage is required to dissent from a dominant but incomplete
"truth." Even greater courage is required to remain
open to ALL types and sources of information and perspective,
recognizing that all "truth" is, in the final analysis,
incomplete. This recognition doesn't have to degrade us into
vague moral and intellectual relativism. It might instead make
us more curious, interested, compassionate, open to what is new,
different, and challenging.
We so often say we want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing
but the truth. And we say we don't want to be lied to. But when
you come right down to it, few of us REALLY want to know all
there is to know about anything, nor to be confronted with too
much complexity, seeming contradiction or mystery -- all of which
are natural companions of Truth as it becomes more comprehensive.
When we say we want the truth, what we usually mean (without
saying it or even admitting it to ourselves) is that we want
to hear acceptable truths couched in acceptably bent truths,
half-truths, reframings and appropriately excluded information
-- all crafted into a picture that "makes sense" to
In other words, we want a story that fits with all the other
stories we tell ourselves about the person or subject under consideration.
We don't want the messy big picture so much as we want coherence,
because it is the coherence of these stories that we use to "make
sense" of our world. Supported by that sense of coherence,
we can then call our stories The Truth.
But when we open ourselves to the actual vastness of multifarious
Truth, we find it much bigger and more complex than any one story
could ever contain. That's a hard reality to grow into. That's
why I think the ultimate truth in the universe may be "There's
more to it than that." No matter what's going on... no matter
what we're being told... no matter what we believe, it helps
to remember that "There is more to it than that."
Yes, we can be sure of that one truth in every circumstance
-- there's always more to it....
Lately I've begun to wonder if Truth is, in fact, a fabric
woven of many stories. Some of them are neat and tidy. Some look
neat and tidy on the front, but are quite messy on the back,
like tapestry. Many of them go on forever, and to be terribly
connected to everything else. A disturbing number of them seem
to contradict each other or to disturb our own favorite stories.
It's almost as if when things seem very simple, that's a sign
we're not really keeping our eyes, minds and hearts open enough
for more Truth to get in.
But there is a kind of sense-making that comes from opening
ourselves up very wide -- wide enough to include every story
that comes along, or at least to allow it to participate in shaping
the larger story that emerges in respectful conversation. But
in the face of many hotly conflicting stories, I find it a real
challenge to be that open -- especially when my own dependable
stories seem threatened.
Furthermore, I think that many seemingly divergent stories
can only make sense together when we view them in good light,
from a distance -- or from very close, through our hearts. In
order for this to happen, of course, these stories must be fully
heard -- which is quite rare nowadays. Sometimes healing or transformation
happens simply because someone fully heard someone else's story.
Real listening seems to turn walls and battlements into doorways,
paths, sometimes even glorious sky-wide sunrises....
There is such a close kinship between story and truth (or
reality). The poet Murial Rukeyser tells us "the universe
is made of stories, not atoms."
So how much of "truth" is actually to be found in
facts, and how much is to be found in the stories we tell ourselves
and each other about what's happening and what that means? Facts
may, indeed, get whatever power they have from the stories they
In myself and others I see selected facts and logics coalescing
around good stories they support, while other facts and logics
(which don't fit so well) are ignored, actively rejected or even
fought. After all, if we let the misfits in, we might have to
change a good story or two -- even lose confidence in the fundamental
stories we use to make sense of everything else -- our Truth.
We might have to live in uncertainty, puzzled or excited, vulnerable
to whatever came next that could shake up our world.
This is not a comfortable place to be. But I can imagine it
being closer to The Truth -- where The Truth is not a story or
anything very solid, but an opening into greater vastness, greater
detail, greater diversity, deeper layers of every story that
comes along, and the natural co-creativity that bubbles up out
of all those stories interacting -- an awed partnership with
the wild unfolding of the universe.
It might be healthier place to live, in the long run, than
any of the places where we decide we know enough to leave our
uncertainty and openness behind.
If we got accustomed to living there, I suspect we might even
become wise. But I'm not sure we'd even notice we'd changed.
We'd be too busy exploring each other's worlds and finding our
way together into shared stories that make temporary but powerful
sense to us all.
So perhaps the lies of politicians are best seen as mirrors
in which to see more clearly our own ambivalence about Truth
and our passionate love affair with Story, that we may step through
the looking glass together, with eyes open, to co-create a new
civilization where power is less toxic and Truth is in love with
On the other hand, perhaps we should just fight the lies,
since official lies lead to mass ignorance which leads, in turn,
to wave upon wave of collective catastrophe. Or perhaps there
are new institutions we could create that would officially make
more of the truth more available to more of the people more of
the time. Or perhaps it is time to take stock of our own half-truths
and biases, dictated by the need to create positional stories
solid enough to survive the political battleground. Perhaps it
is time to re-think the trade-offs involved.
The journey towards greater Truth proceeds along a thousand
paths. There is room for all.
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