Is Truth Dead?

At least, that's what the current issue of TIME Magazine has screaming from their cover. The blood-red letters against the solid black background has an ominous effect.  I saw it as I was returning from a weekend business trip to Ontario, CA, and I found the timing of this issue more than a little coincidental.

See, I'm really focused right now on the topic of TRUTH.  I've been feverishly working on my latest book, Character Counts: Bringing the Rotary Four-Way Test to Life, and as many of you know, the first question in the Four-Way Test reads, "Is it the TRUTH?"  Character Counts is a deep-dive examination of the character building blocks that are embodied in each of the Questions in the Four-Way Test and the topic of truthfulness and trustworthiness is a crucial one in this study.

TIME's article is really about current President Donald Trump and his pattern of misleading statements, but it does bring us to question truthfulness as a whole.  Nancy Gibbs, TIME's editor, says in your column "Where is the line between lie, spin and delusion?"

It's an important question. What is considered TRUTH these days?  As I explored in the book, there is so much moral relativism in our society these days, is TRUTH a matter of perspective or is there something hard and firm we can all agree on that is TRUTH?

And this is where my discussions with other Rotarians has gotten interesting. I recently asked my Rotarian contacts, in their opinion, which of the four Questions in the Four-Way Test was the most important, and why? Before I get into the results, I'd like to share with those of you who may not be Rotarians or aren't on a first-name basis with the Four-Way Test what the Questions are we are considering:

"Is it the TRUTH?"

"Is it FAIR to all concerned?"

"Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?"

"Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?"

I was very amazed at how many responses I received from Rotarians all across the country. And, in fact, the comments were varied, but all were quite well thought-out and articulated.  Here's how the responses lined out on a purely numerical basis:

Q1: Is it the TRUTH... 57%
Q2: Is it FAIR... 29%
Q3: Will it build GOODWILL... 14%
Q4: Will it be BENEFICIAL... 0%

So the numbers are quite telling. More Rotarians thought Q1 was the most important over all the other responses combined.  But it's the reasoning behind choosing Question 1 I found quite compelling.  Here are a few:

"For me its truth. Not to tell the truth is unfair, it's a lie."

"It's easy, tell the truth in the morning and come 2 o'clock in the afternoon you don't have to remember that you said."

"For me I’d say the first, “Is it the truth” as for me that affects the other three and is the hardest to commit too considering the good and bad aspects."

But one comment I received from Rotarian Marty Lindeman really impressed me because it's JUST what we are talking about, and leads into the TIME Magazine article on Donald Trump.   Marty shared...

"Truth is often first defined as fact.  Facts are verifiable, quantifiable.  But not always.  Truth is also perception and sometimes faith.   It is often subjective and to most people it changes a bit over time and experience.  Stephen Covey said that it isn’t unusual that certain groups of people hold as truth certain values and beliefs that another group would find horrendously distasteful or violate the norms of human decency.   For example, Hitler’s SS was dedicated to the “truth" that Jews (and others) needed to be exterminated at all cost.  That’s why today’s subjective proof for 'truth' needs to be confronted.  One needs to find what Covey describes as “true north truth” or truth that is bigger and more universal than one’s own perception of truth. "

TIME magazines begins its article about Trump and the Truth with the age-old tale about our First President George Washington's admission to his father that cutting down the cherry tree as an example of honesty. It quickly points out the contrast in our current President's tendency to engage in making false or misleading statements, that frequently have no basis in fact.  TIME reframes the cherry tree story, based on Trump's penchant for "truthful hyperbole," as

"I'm not gonna lie to you, Dad. The tree has been chopped -- smart people say maybe by illegal immigrants or by Muslims. there are some bad hombres.  Anyway, it's gone, and I'm gonna build something truly terrific on this parcel."

Trump has barely been in office, but he had set a precedence on running fast and loose with the truth as early as 2011, during the then-election campaign when he was the first to make the claim that Barack Obama was actually born in Africa. He makes claims that are not only outlandish, but cannot be backed up in fact. Or, as he is eager to point out, he makes the statements and then the facts bear him out later.  But he has been trained that, while the truth may be reality, spinning falsehoods is much more popular.  He has even propagated inflammatory statements about Texas' Senator Ted Cruz's father (that he was linked to the John F. Kennedy's assassin), claiming he shouldn't have to recant or apologize for spreading the misconception because it had been printed in the National Enquirer."

And what does it say of us if we know we are being lied to, but we allow it to continue? Is the TRUTH no longer important?  According to TIME, in the 2016 campaign, "70% of the Trump statements reviewed by [Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking site] PolitiFact were false, 4% were entirely true, 11% mostly true. Voters were not deceived; nearly two-thirds said that Trump was not trustworthy, including nearly a third of the people who voted for him anyway."

There is an argument to be made that "truth" can be subjective.  But, it's also clear that certain caliber of fabrications can't be justified by invoking a set of "alternate facts."  And, with Trump, it's more about the show and the drama than it is about being correct.  As TIME reported, "the viral effect of falsehood being repeated on the news was many times more pronounced [than truthful statements]." We are allowing ourselves to be distracted by the turmoil and "bomb effect" of the lies, and forget to focus on the real issues and tasks at hand.

I think if we want to "Make America Great Again," we need to stop twisting facts and figures for our own personal gain. We need to stop "bending" the truth and propagating falsehoods. We need to refrain from taking gossip and calling it fact.  Most of all, we need to be trustworthy.  As I like to say, I'd rather take a bad truth than a good lie.  TIME's Gibbs puts it even more directly: "Trust is a transaction between leaders and those who lead."  And the world needs to put faith in the word of our leaders. And if our leaders can't set the example they should perhaps they are the wrong ones to lead us. If we tolerate lies and fabrications in the people we have chosen to represent us, what hope does our next generation have -- our children -- of growing up to be adults of character and decency, that are, themselves fit to be the very fabric of our society or even lead it? We will, then, get the government -- and the community -- we deserve. And the consequences that come with that.


Want more about Rotary and the TRUTH?  Check out this post...

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