A friend sent me an email today with a link to an article about facts and truth-telling. She got me thinking:
Honesty is the best policy. That adage has always been my mantra: telling the truth is the best way to go through life. And not just because—as Mom always said ala Mark Twain’s wisdom—it is easier to remember the truth than whatever lies you concocted. For one thing, the 10 Commandments tell us not to steal, kill or bear false witness, among other things, of course. For another, truth-telling is very American: We vow to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth when giving testimony in court. In school, we teach students not to plagiarize and stress the importance of scientific inquiry. Telling the truth should be easy, given how often someone says, “Cross my heart and hope to die.”
On Dragnet (remember that great old TV show?), Sgt. Joe Friday would always say, “Just the facts, Ma’am.” And the viewing public applauded! But if we can believe Wikipedia, whose very existence raises other qualms about what is really true, that phrase was never really uttered by Sgt. Friday. What he really said was, “All we want are the facts.” Close, but I would have sworn he said the earlier phrase—that is my truth! [If you are interested, the truth behind this confusion is explained on Snopes.Com, whose subtitle is “Rumor has it.”]
This discrepancy demonstrates that the truth is not so easy to find. There is always a difference between appearance and reality, memories can be fuzzy, and facts cannot always be verified. The illusiveness of truth and honesty in our everyday lives is a given, a fact so to speak. Just watch commercials, especially the political ads that will be assaulting us all soon as the presidential election looms closer and closer. I expect you will conclude as I have that we should all worry about truth, justice, and the American Way—and how we can be certain we know the truth.
The final conclusion, I guess, is that each of us is on our own to know and understand the truth, no matter how hard that can be. We trust our memories, experiences, and direct observations—as well as certain people in our lives. In the past, we could count on facts helping us out in our search for truth. But that option is jeopardized now that a new truth is out there: Facts are dead! You can read all about it in Rex Huppke’s column “I will miss facts” posted on post-gazette.com. You will have to read about this tragedy on your own, but maybe there is some hope. Rex ends this column/obituary by noting that “Facts is survived by two brothers, Rumor and Innuendo, and a sister, Emphatic Assertion.” If Mulder is right, “The truth is out there!” But from my view, it is getting harder and harder to find.
SOME QUESITONS FOR YOU: What truths do you hold self-evident? How do you assess reality? Do you go through life telling the truth, or do little white lies help save the day?
NOW SOME QUOTES, YOU ASSESS HOW TRUE THEY ARE?
“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please. (Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.)” Mark Twain
“She never lied, but she may not always have told the whole truth.” Said about Erika Berger in The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo
“The best measure of a man’s honesty isn’t his income tax return. It’s the zero adjust on his bathroom scale.” Arthur C. Clarke
“Speak the truth, but leave immediately after.” Slovenian Proverb
“I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.” Harry S. Truman
“Statistics are like lampposts: they are good to lean on, but they don’t shed much light.” Robert Storm-Petersen
“What is the difference between unethical and ethical advertising? Unethical advertising uses falsehoods to deceive the public; ethical advertising uses truth to deceive the public.” Vihjalmur Stefansson
“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” Rene Descartes
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Benjamin Disreali
“The truth is more important than facts.” Frank Lloyd Wright
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” Aldous Huxley
“We want the facts to fit the preconceptions. When they don’t, it is easier to ignore the facts than to change the preconceptions.” Jessamyn West
“They wanted facts. Facts! They demanded facts from him, as if facts could explain anything.” Joseph Conrad