John Jaques (1827-1900) wrote a poem that several Christian religions have turned into a hymn by this name, “Oh Say, What is Truth.” The sentiments of the poem/hymn/song strike me as a worthy pursuit and a commitment for life. Here are the words of the poem.
Oh, say, what is truth? ‘Tis the fairest gem
That the riches of worlds can produce,
And priceless the value of truth will be when
The proud monarch’s costliest diadem
Is counted but dross and refuse.
Yes, say, what is truth? ‘Tis the brightest prize
To which mortals or Gods can aspire;
Go search in the depths where it glittering lies
Or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies.
‘Tis an aim for the noblest desire.
The sceptre may fall from the despot’s grasp
When with winds of stern justice, he copes,
But the pillar of truth will endure to the last,
And its firm-rooted bulwarks outstand the rude blast,
And the wreck of the fell tyrant’s hopes.
Then say, what is truth? ‘Tis the last and the first,
For the limits of time, it steps o’er.
Though the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst,
Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
Eternal, unchanged, evermore.
What is truth?
Defining truth may appear utterly elementary, but I beg your forbearance, dear reader, with all the plastic words thrown “hither and yon” across the earth, knowing the definitions and being able to discern truth are two different processes. Truth is defined as a quality or state of being true and something true in accordance with fact or reality. Thus, true is defined as accurate, exact, without variation, loyal or faithful, and honest.
Would it surprise anyone that one of the words most needed in language has a global decline in usage since 1850? I find this disconcerting and will elaborate further later. I want to spark a thought at this moment. With all the need for truth in the world, why is the word in decline?
An analogy might help to improve understanding. Using statistics, injecting a certain bias, and a low confidence level (signifying that the statistics are verifiable), I can claim that the sky is purple! But, you will run to your window and find different colors, blue being predominant. However, I can still justify the sky is purple and not blue. Proving two points clearly: statistics do not prove anything, and truth depends on more than just statistical inquiry. Mark Twain is oft-quoted as claiming a significant truth about statistics, “There are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics.” Yet, data, especially statistical data, has replaced words and ideas in decision-making and been used to hide truth purposefully, even though statistics can be used to lie with confidence, as demonstrated by the analogy above.
During my undergraduate statistics course, the instructor was a math lover and held a Ph.D. in math. Great instructor, amazing class. We took a single data set of numeric, quantitative data during the eight-week course, proved our hypothesis right, wrong, and twisted the data until even we had trouble understanding our own data. The lesson, do not solely trust numeric data. I mention all of this as part of the discerning process in understanding truth, recognizing truth, and embracing truth, all of which is part of the discernment process to test a fact to reach a truth.
Please note: one of the modern problems where truth has been plasticized is making truth a reality. For example, my statistical data is my reality; thus, I exist in a state of truth. Which is all well and good, except as we just proved, believing in your statistics is a great way to delude yourself into believing a lie. Worse, elements of truth make lies more convincing and improve the successful liar to a deceiver. Hence, the process of discerning truth must contain other elements to work correctly.
The following are elements of truth:
- Truth does not change over time. For example, an anchor will sink to the length of the chain or bottom of the water body, which does not change over time or between fresh and saltwater, and anchors have been a facet of ships and shipping since recorded history began noting humans setting sail. Hence, we may safely conclude anchors are a needed tool onboard a vessel and vital to shipping.
- If it is true for one person, it will be true for all people. Consistency is a paramount virtue of truth. For example, electricity is carried worldwide in copper cables, shielded, and designed to carry electricity safely. Copper doesn’t only work for moving electricity in Russia, and the Greeks have to rely upon titanium, while the Arab nations use Gold, and America uses silver. Even though these metals are good conductors of electricity, copper shielded lines remain the consistent standard around the world.
- Truth advances knowledge. For example, a dropping apple helped spur lessons in gravity. Lessons in gravity have led to space flight, airplanes, and a lot of other physics-based discoveries.
A lie cannot stand the test of time, the test of application between cultures and people, nor can it advance knowledge. Worse, a lie, even when it contains particulars of truth, cannot long survive scrutiny. One of the most important lessons I have ever learned in improving decision-making has been to scrutinize information. When lies are embedded in truth, the scrutiny makes the lie stand out like a bloodstain on a white veil. For example, when President Obama was promising that under ObamaCare, you could keep your doctor, the adults in the room had doubts, and when the law was passed, we had our suspicions proved correct.
The same pattern is available to every person who chooses to dedicate themselves to finding the truth and living the truth. If someone is offering you the “True Truth,” be suspicious, use the elements in discerning truth, and report your findings. I have found that the more we share truth, the less lies can deter, confuse, and hinder progress and growth. The first step in a truth-filled, truth-centric life is knowing that statistics cannot tell the truth, ever! If we rely solely upon statistics, we live a lie that will eventually trip us up and, like the leaders of ENRON or Bernie Madoff, finds us in jail!
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.