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Nothing but the truth

Published March 08. 2014 09:00AM

Lately I've been involved in discussions about the truth.

And that's a good thing, because it's one of my favorite topics.

The truth isn't always clear. And truth can be different things to different people. What is deemed an absolute to one might be false to another.

Issues and facts can be open to interpretation. Even the skinniest pancake has two sides.

In a talk I once gave to editors at the Pa. Newspaper Association, I told the group that writing the truth is the most difficult thing a writer can do. Why? Well, because many people don't want to know it. Many won't believe it. And sometimes the truth is hard to figure out.

Of course, our culture tells us lying isn't a good thing. We learn it from an early age and in the simplest terms.

George Washington, an early inspiration, supposedly said: "I cannot tell a lie. I chopped down the cherry tree with my hatchet." We respect him for that.

His honesty should be saluted because such behavior isn't necessarily reflected in today's breed of politician.

Today, we question if N.J. Gov. Chris Christie knew about, or even ordered, the dangerous lane closures on the bridge. How ironic that the bridge is named for America's original honest politician.

Wouldn't it be nice if we had a way to know who was telling the truth?

Did Obama knowingly lie about his health care program? Did Amanda Knox have a hand in a roommate's murder in Italy? Did Lizzie Borden take an ax?

Sometimes the truth eventually emerges in no uncertain terms. Example: truth is, the Titanic wasn't unsinkable.

Some, such as Judge Judy, believe they have a gift to figure out when a person is lying.

Maybe so with Pinocchio. But in contemporary culture, it can be difficult to determine when someone speaks with a forked tongue.

Detecting lies is important because people's lives can be broken over falsehoods.

Remember in 2008 when a former chairman of Nasdaq used lies to con $50 billion from investors?

Today, Bernie Madoff sits in prison and many families are in disarray from his evil and greed.

As for the judicial system, I don't think the truth is predisposed to emerge during any given proceeding.

Remember the traditional gesture of swearing on the Bible to tell the truth? Not only is it discriminatory and egocentric in terms of belief systems, it provides no assurance of anything. It can be a meaningless gesture.

Some consider the Bible total fiction, devoid of anything divine. Actually, the person being sworn in might be an atheist. Also, holy books vary. Would a Muslim with his Quran really find significance in swearing on a Bible?

The simple term "So help me God" would have a different meaning to a secular humanist than it would to a deity-oriented mind. And none of this is to suggest either party is more apt to tell the truth. The truth is never guaranteed.

Some say lie detector machines, or polygraphs, are the way to go.

During a test, a questioner asks three or four simple questions to establish norms for the person's sensory signals. Then, when critical questions are asked, the polygraph is supposed to show a graph of sensory variations.

Some say a well-trained examiner can detect lying with high accuracy. But a polygraph isn't reliable. An examiner's interpretation is subjective. And because different people react differently to lying, a polygraph can be fooled. No wonder many judges and courts don't permit polygraph results to be used in the courtroom.

Finally, computers can lie, too.

Virtually all computer-based weather programs predicted a huge storm would hit us last Monday.

Some said we'd be clobbered with over 20 inches of snow. It was a rare case, they said, in which the European and American computer models agreed. Yup, it was coming and it'd be a biggie. It prompted a stampede to the grocery store.

But Monday morning came and we didn't have a snowfall. We had nothing. Not a flake.

Some might contend the only flake was the person who relied on the computers.

And the rest of us are flakes for believing that humans in 2014 actually know how to predict local weather.

But the good news about Monday's lie is that all of us now have plenty of bread, milk and eggs.

Have a relaxing weekend. Enjoy your French toast. It always tastes better with pure maple syrup, not imitation.

And that's the truth.

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