The Oxford Dictionary, a historic fount of fortunate fame for our English language, now fans human fate and/or fantasy with “post-truth” as the 2016 word of the year. This lexicon suggests truth has been supplanted by a new paradigm with objective facts rendered redundant to emotions and personal beliefs. A plethora of philosophers, poets and powerful political pundits have pronounced on truth since time immemorial as well as the revered religious who postulate the word of God is truth. Psalm 25:5 says: “Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long”.
American humorist and writer Mark Twain proposed during an interview with Rudyard Kipling in the 19th century to “never let the truth get in the way of a good story” and it was more than 400 years ago in 1599 that English politician, Sir Edwin Sandys, who founded the first English settlement in Virginia, America, wrote In Europae Speculum that “our gross conceipts, who think honestie the best policie”. How significant is truth?
As children, we are raised with Sandys’ dictum as a moral imperative for our behaviour, yet the nature of truth has baffled, bewildered and bedevilled most people so we can never be certain what truth really is. Is it simply a “verified or indisputable fact..” as the Macquarie Dictionary states or is truth distorted, even destroyed, by our perceptions or assumptions? Truth can never be objective however much we delude ourselves that it is. To tell the truth may be a respected tenet in most cultures around the world where to lie is a betrayal of godliness for a good and righteous life, but reality attests to a more profound truth that most of us lie at different times, for different reasons and in different contexts. Truth is too often shrouded by a silent subterfuge of deceit, designed to confuse people in a guise of honest humility. The political landscape, not just in the recent American presidential election, is testimony to violations of truth which can seem elusive, exaggerated or even eclipsed not just on social media now, but throughout history. Truth is often no more than a noble ideal.
The pertinent fact about truth is that experiential psychology shapes our interpretation and understanding of reality so that as German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in Human, All Too Human: “There are no eternal facts, as there are no absolute truths.” Perhaps faith in truth is epitomised by William Shakespeare’s Polonius in Hamlet who said: “to thine own self be true.”