Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.Thoreau
I’ve always kind of found Thoreau to be self-indulgent and whiny. Never my favorite philosopher, I kind of enjoy to run him down for his adventures in Walden – which was hardly the rough and rustic experience he presented.
That said, I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately – he would have had much to say about our current political environment. I don’t necessarily agree with him that I would trade love for truth – I think sometimes fiction is ok and comfort is something to be valued not rejected out of hand. The quote above makes me think of reality shows from the early days of reality television – the early Real World shows on MTV, which I was only able to watch upon arriving at college where I first gained access to the wonders of cable television (my parents remain, to this day, fully terrestrial channels only). There was always a cast member who would be rude and mean to the housemates, they would say the worst things to everyone and always follow them up with I’ve just got to be me or some similar statement of aggressive authenticity.
Truth can be painful and harsh and unnecessary and doesn’t always need to be faced in our personal relationships. We can be honest without sharing every single thought in our heads. We can be authentic without being brutal. If I don’t like your shoes, I don’t need to lie that I do, but I also don’t need to share that I don’t. Filtering is the key to happy relationships. That said, I think we have a right to expect truth of our government. To expect our leaders to strive for it. To anticipate that our leaders will be willing to face and accommodate uncomfortable realities that we might not be willing to tackle – to help us to understand and accept things that we don’t want to accept. To be curious about the reality of any given situation. To not filter reality to reflect their personal interests.
And yet, we’ve moved into such a terrible place of abject rejection of reality. Of lies for the sake of self advancement, even at the expense of our government. Of course we would come to this place during the first reality show presidency. He’s the typical Real World “villain” keeping it real all over the harmony of the house and people’s ability to live together. Stating his “truth” without curiosity and concern for facts and the opinions of others.
But this isn’t just an American problem – the English have fallen down a rabbit hole of reality rejection with Brexit – their rejection of the truth and unwillingness to accept that consequences follow actions – the very fundamental truth at the heart of all science for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction – have them paralyzed in the face of choices that will necessarily have painful results (stay OR go, frankly).
The reality is that we’ve become very good at convincing ourselves that truth is what we believe as opposed to a thing that should be investigated. Confirmation bias is real in our lives and our political realities. We look only for evidence that our chosen theory is correct. We don’t subject ourselves to critical challenge, to peer review. It feels like an attack when others challenge our beliefs – a thing that is playing out in real time on the news. For all political persuasions.
But there must be truths so self-evident, that we can all hold them (I know I’ve read that somewhere). That the will of the people should be represented. That we are not governed by or for the benefit of the governors. That progress does not come without sacrifice and that sacrifice is, by definition, uncomfortable. When did we start to reject discomfort or challenge? To decide that sharing our version of reality is the most important thing?
I feel like I’ve gone all over the place with this. I think there are truths that we don’t need to share, that make relationships impossible to maintain or sustain. But the fundamental truths, about who we are and what we need, we need to dare to share those and then to accept the reality that others might not be able to meet those needs. At the same time, we need to be able to trust that others will also share with us the truth, to believe that there are FACTS that can be determined and agreed and that those facts will have meaning we can agree on.
Those reality show villains always seemed to me to be ignoring facts and labeling opinion their truth. Surely, we can find a way to return to facts to seek them out and to look them in the face. Too often when we disagree about interpretation of facts we deny the facts themselves. It leaves us off-balancing and reeling when others don’t even acknowledge facts. This is a change – the idea that the facts themselves cannot be ascertained. That opinion supplants inquiry. That our personal truth is the only truth and that it’s more important than actual truth.
I’m just not sure how to accommodate THAT reality.