Our social and political issues argued hourly in mainstream media outlets, and even in this journal (Huntington, WV Herald-Dispatch), seem to eventually devolve into one basic question - Who is telling the truth?
Whether one views MSNBC or Fox, reads Milt Hankins or George Will, the various pundits accuse some leaders of misrepresenting the truth while claiming others speak the truth: Is Donald Trump tweeting the truth? Did James Comey avoid the truth? Who is telling the truth about health care legislation? With these questions bandied about, the debate spirals to the pundits engaging in something akin to a schoolyard confrontation where one student screams “IS NOT” followed by the other retorting “IS TOO” which are volleyed until either a teacher steps in or punches fly.
When asked about the truth, our general inclination is to reach for the facts. We do this so much that we seem to conflate facts with truth. But, if fact and truth are equivalent, then why do we, in the English language, use two separate words?
According to my go-to source (etymonline.com) the word “fact” is derived from the Latin word factum, meaning an event, occurrence or achievement. In contrast, the word “truth” has a different origin, derived from an Old English word triewo, meaning faith, fidelity and loyalty. In recent usage, the two words have increasingly become synonymous. Perhaps it is time to unbundle them for the sake of bringing public discourse away from our present schoolyard spat and towards a civil and meaningful debate.
I humbly propose two ways of separating truth from fact.
First, let’s abandon the word “truth” from civil and political discourse. Truth is a deeply textured word running through theological and philosophical thought, engaging matters of faith and belief well beyond the realm of facts. For example, in my Christian tradition, the Passion of Christ includes a moment when Jesus proclaims that he came to testify to the truth. Pontius Pilate responds, “What is truth?” and then walks away.
Did Pilate recognize the futility of his question by walking away, or did he recognize that Jesus was the way, the life and the truth? One thing for sure–neither Jesus nor Pilate were talking about facts. Rather, there is an elusive quality in their exchange. Taking our cue from them, maybe we should leave the truth out of political and civil discussion and stick to the facts.
Second, we can continue treating fact and truth as equivalents, removing the word “the” which generally precedes them. Doing so removes the singularity of each word, making it less definitive. So, “the” truth become “a” truth and “the” fact becomes “one” fact.
This alternate proposition flows from the lesson I learned from the Indian parable of the four blind men and the elephant, wherein each man describes the animal from his own perspective, with one describing a tail, the other an ear, one a foot and, finally, one a trunk. Each blind man speaks factually and truthfully, but none perceives “the” truth or “the” fact due to his inability to perceive the totality of the animal. Likewise in our public discourse, we should question seriously anyone who thinks they know it all.
So, maybe we should hearken back to Joe Friday and ask for “Just the facts.” Or maybe we should speak of truths rather than the truth. No matter which route we take, it is better than the present, banal course of exchange presented in the news of the day.
[J. William St. Clair is a United Methodist Clergyman and Legal Aid attorney who lives with his wife and family in Huntington, West Virginia. This is his third contribution to Columnist with a View.]
[James Merritt is a master of short fiction. He is especially talented at weaving a story from almost any subject–from horror to humor. Following are four stories we think you’ll enjoy–or, at least get a “kick” out of!]
With each balloon that popped, his future died a little more. His dreams of hearing, changing, and expressing the world through music ending with each dart thrown. With the air escaping a million unknown futures falling behind him. Once he was a young child whose mother daily forced him to practice singing, violin, and piano.
When he turned twelve, he found his talents multiplying daily. On the same day his mother discovered heroin.
By fourteen, he simply had to escape the destruction of what was left of his home. He ran off to a carnival and worked, thinking he would only stay until he was old enough to escape as an adult. Working the balloon pop station for four years destroyed his hearing–ending what was the great hope of humanity. He had had the potential to put all other musicians past and present to shame. Potential to save humanity from war through the purest beauty in the universe. Now, humanity would be lost–the world’s destruction due to a balloon pop.
FLY AND HIS LOVER
The fly found its soulmate from its previous life and buzzed around his head. Landing on the human, he shared his coffee, lightly caressed his hand.
The fly was driving the man nuts! It was buzzing around his head, landing on his coffee cup, and crawling up and down his arm.
The man picked up the bright green tool of death and swatted the fly, not quite killing it with the first blow–realizing only after the first attack of his loves true form. So, he hit it again and again, destroying his love in hopes of it coming back in a more pleasant form. Perhaps they could be together in another life.
Huzzah! One less fly in the world.
Well below the deepest hidden basement of the forgotten Smithsonian lies a cavern filled with artifacts from distant galaxies–hidden there by those who do not want mankind to know of alien life.
In the darkest corner of the dusty cavern, lit by a single bulb, on a stand sits a pair of beautifully engraved leather shoes. Swirling over the old skin are flowers carved, mixed with maps of the infinite universe. These shoes outshine the most beautiful ever created.
The shoes found their way here after the death of their creator. The majestic shoes were created by an alien named Herschel. Herschel came from a distant world of creatures that look very much like me and you. A major difference is, in his world, each individual spends their life on a singular project–perfecting it to mastery. Herschel had traveled the stars in search of his medium–to create his life’s majesty. He crash landed on a roof in New York City and spent his short lifetime in the same building; although long for his species of five earth years. During this time he only befriended one person–an old Jewish leather worker named Takhash. Takhash taught Herschel his skill.
At the end of Herschel’s life, he presented the shoes to Takhash who discovered, unlike humans, Herschel and his people had hooves instead of feet. As Herschel had only seen people with shoes on, he assumed they were just a strange earth-style. Due to this, his one-of- a-kind shoes insides were made for a hoof.
The next day, Takhash found Herschel dead outside his door. When he called the police, men in black came and took the body and shoes away. After being studied, the shoes were hidden away from humanity. The glorious work of Hershel’s existence were never against seen by the living, but by spiders and dust mites. When the earth’s end came in the final moments, the spirits of the earth sought out the most beautiful sights. The earth itself paused its shakes and volcanoes for a moment in awe of a pair of beautiful, intricately-designed shoes.
He woke screaming from his nightmare, and realizing it was only a dream, got out of bed. He went to his kitchen–being extra quiet so the monsters did not hear him. The giant flying monster killed his mom, and his father was shot and killed, leaving him alone in the high rise with all of his noisy neighbors. He grabbed a handful of nuts and found a comfortable seat while he chewed his morning dinner.
All of a sudden his house shook, and he knew it was the end when he heard timber as the terrorist monsters toppled the high rise, not even giving warning to evacuate. As he tumbled and fell to the ground, the smash of his home hitting the ground was deafening. Hobbling outside on his broken leg he looked up at the monsters just in time to see the forest descend on the beasts.
The flying monsters attacked their eyes while spiders bit any uncovered skin. He crawled up a leg of the thing and bit it where its legs came together. The thing let out a piercing scream as a bear came in and clawed out its throat. When other forests lost their spirit protectors they became fearful of the two-legged monsters. Not this forest, for the creatures in it were trained to kill. When left alone, they only killed each other for meat, but when a man-beast entered they never left alive. The entire crew of monsters were dead within minutes, their bodies devoured within two days and their metal buried with berry bushes planted on top.
Next time you need a tree, ask its inhabitants first. Make sure to give thirty days notice of eviction; otherwise, your nuts may become chips!
[James Merritt lives in Maryland. He is a teacher, entrepreneur, story-teller and writer. We are pleased to have published several of James’s stories in Columnist with a View, so you can search the Archives for other short-shorts. He has published a small collection which is available on Amazon.com.]