What Is Truth?

I thought I knew, but now I’m not so sure.

One of the things I value most in life is truth.

Maybe I’m old fashioned. Maybe I’m idealistic. Maybe I’m a dreamer.

Maybe I’m just an idiot.

But throughout my life — especially as I got older and began understanding the world around me — truth became a guiding principle. When I ask a question, I expect an honest reply. When I watch the news, I expect to see and hear what really happened. When I look at a photograph, I expect it to be an accurate representation of what was in front of the camera lens when the image was captured.

To me, it’s impossible to function effectively and make the best decisions unless the information you have is the truth.

Lies waste time. They build distrust. They lead to bad decisions. They destroy relationships.

And there’s a funny thing about lies: they’re usually discovered and the liar is revealed as a liar.

Lying is stupid.

Truth in Today’s World

Sadly, truth seems to have little value in today’s world. The most recent political campaigns really brought that home. There were numerous advertisements that misrepresented the facts to the point of actually spreading lies. The most notorious examples were Mitt Romney’s Jeep ads which played in Ohio and elsewhere, and claimed that Chrysler was sending Jeep manufacturing jobs to China (among other things). This had already been proven false after Romney made the same claim in a speech just days before. But they aired the ad anyway, purposely spreading lies.

And no, Romney wasn’t the only liar out there this past campaign season. There were plenty of other liars on all points of the political spectrum. It got so bad that numerous fact-checker websites and news site features popped up to share the burden with established sites such as Politifact.com.

But this post isn’t about politics. It’s about truth. And lies.

The public these days seems to have little regard for the truth. They hear various versions of something that interests them. Rather than take the time or effort to determine which is most accurate, they choose the story that best matches what they want to hear — the version that supports their belief or their decision. Everything else is disregarded — either forgotten or categorized as untrue.

Anyone with an email inbox and a second cousin or uncle knows the kind of crap that floats around the Internet. Crazy stories, conspiracy theories, links to articles that anyone with a skeptical eye would cringe at. The problem is, that second cousin or uncle believes what he’s sent you is true. And he got it from someone else who also believes it. And so on and so on. It supports their beliefs or decisions and that’s all they really care about. They want you to know the “truth” so you can share their belief or decision.

As you might imagine, this drives me — a person who values real truth, no matter what it might lead to — bonkers. Life’s too short to waste it with lies. And some decisions are too important to make them based on lies.

Am I the only person to understand this?

Is it Okay to Lie?

In an effort to replace my soon-to-be ex-husband with a suitable partner, I’ve resorted to online dating services. (A big mistake; I’ll blog about it in detail when my experiment is over, hopefully soon.) The topic of truth vs. lies applies to these sites in a number of different ways.

When you sign up for these sites, they ask you a series of questions about yourself and your ideal mate. Some sites have very rudimentary questionnaires. Others have extremely lengthy questionnaires. Indeed, one of the sites I’ve tried offers more than 10,000 questions for you to answer.

One of the multiple choice questions on one of the sites went something like this:

Is it okay to lie?

• Yes.
• White lies are okay.
• Not usually.
• Never.

This question reminds me of the old puzzler, the Liar Paradox, which is sometimes expressed with the single statement, “This sentence is false.” Is it false? It can’t be true or false, hence the paradox.

Similarly, if a person responds that it’s Never okay to lie but he’s lying, how much else is a lie? But, as usual, I digress.

Side Note: My unwillingness to lie got me into serious trouble years ago at a family gathering. It’s a kind of funny story, so I’ll tell it here. I can use a good laugh. The trick is to tell it without names so I don’t get in trouble again. Here goes.

My soon-to-be ex-husband’s Brother was married to Wife. Wife absolutely hated Girlfriend who was the girlfriend of Brother’s Cousin. Got that? Two couples: Brother and Wife, Cousin and Girlfriend.

At a huge Thanksgiving dinner at our old house in New Jersey that Brother and Wife attended but Cousin and Girlfriend did not, Wife asked me, “Would you rather have Cousin and Girlfriend here than us?” Not knowing how to answer that loaded question without lying — because I honestly liked Cousin and Girlfriend much better — I simply didn’t answer. Wife exploded in anger. “You rather have them here than us?!”

Needless to say, things between me and Wife went downhill from there. No great loss, fortunately. I have no patience for that kind of petty bullshit.

I had a problem with this question. In general, I don’t believe in lying — and I don’t generally lie. When asked a question I’m not comfortable with being 100% truthful, I’ll avoid answering the question or I’ll dance around the truth or I’ll make factual statements that might not answer the question or I’ll answer part of the question that I have no problem with. In other words, I’ll do everything within my power to avoid lying.

But then I started thinking about white lies. To me, a white lie is something you tell to spare another person’s feelings. It’s not true, but it’s also not harmful.

Every man should know, for example, that the answer to his wife’s question, “Does this dress make me look fat?” is “No,” no matter what the truth is.

But even a white lie like that could cause harm. Suppose the wife is going to her 20th high school reunion. Suppose that throughout high school she was teased mercilessly about being overweight. She wants to look her best — indeed, it’s important to her that she look great. And suppose the dress doesn’t really make her look that good at all. Wouldn’t it be better for the husband to recommend another outfit or even suggest going shopping for one? Isn’t it better for his wife to make the decision for this important event based on factual information?

So what’s the answer to the dating site question above? I think I might have chosen “Not Usually” — and that’s because I wanted to be truthful with my answer. But, as you might expect, most of the “matches” for me that answered this question said “Never” — leading me to wonder how truthful they were being.

I’ll save my rant about honesty on dating sites for another post.

Lies and My Life

Because I don’t lie and I don’t believe in lying, when someone else lies, it really bothers me — probably a lot more than it bothers most people, given my earlier discussion about truth in today’s world. And when those lies are about me and they’re presented in a place where truth is vitally important — I’m shattered.

That’s what happened to me last week. Without getting so detailed that I get myself in trouble, I’ll just say that court-submitted documents accused me of performing several acts that I not only did not do, but I would never do. These documents also lied about the ownership of a specific asset that was mine.

Reading these documents was like being stabbed in the heart — especially when I considered where the lies had come from. Listening in on a phone call with the judge who might be making decisions regarding my financial future and hearing these same lies repeated was like getting that knife twisted. Someone was lying about me to a judge and I was unable to defend myself properly. To me, there’s nothing worse than being in this situation.

I realize that I’m not the only person on the planet to be a victim of lies submitted in court. It’s just nightmarish to find myself in this situation.

The FugitiveThink of all the movies you’ve ever seen, all the books you’ve ever read, all the news stories you’ve heard about, where the protagonist — a “good guy” — is victimized by lies told about him to make him seem, to everyone else, like a bad guy. You watch or read or hear what he’s going through and you squirm, feeling for him, rooting for him, glad that you’re not in his shoes.

Right now, I have a pretty good feeling of what it’s like to be in those shoes. And trust me: it sucks. There’s nothing worse than the thought that a decision about your future might be based on lies presented by other people who will benefit from your downfall. And that’s what I’m dealing with now.

After the phone call, I went to my regularly scheduled appointment with my grief therapist. And I spent the entire hour crying. There was simply nothing else I could do.

It wasn’t just the situation I was in — hopefully, the falsehood of the claims (established on Saturday) and my lawyers will be able to fix some of the damage done to my character. It was the simple fact that someone I used to trust had lied about me. Lied extensively. Lied cruelly and hurtfully. Lied for a selfish, hateful purpose.

As someone who doesn’t lie, it was hard for me to accept that this other person would — even though events of the past eight months have revealed more lies than I can count. It’s just so hard for me to accept.

Black and White

I’ll admit that one of my big problems with truth is that I’m always trying to categorize something as true or false. This caused a lot of trouble between me and my soon-to-be ex-husband throughout the later years of our relationship — and it continues to do so today.

You see, the problem is that he saw shades of gray where I saw black and white. He’d say that he couldn’t make a conclusion about something because there was no yes or no answer (shades of gray) and I’d clearly see a yes or a no answer (black and white).

Don’t get the idea that I never saw shades of gray — I certainly did in many instances and still do. But often, when I saw black and white, he saw shades of gray. That would cause arguments that often went unresolved. I couldn’t convince him of my point and he couldn’t convince me of his.

Sometimes, this would frustrate me to no end. I understand that not everyone sees things the same way. I understand that not everyone has the same knowledge or experience on which to base a conclusion. But in many of the instances where we argued, I simply could not understand why he couldn’t see the situation the same way I did. And near the end of our relationship, I began to suspect that he was arguing with me over it because he didn’t want to admit that I might be right. Or just for the sake of arguing.

(In the 20-20 vision of hindsight, this should have raised red flags with me. But I had too much invested emotionally in our relationship to admit that there was a problem. I thought he was an honest person. I didn’t realize that his personality would allow pride to trump truth.)

I saw my soon-to-be ex-husband on Saturday and was able, for the first time since July, to speak to him privately. It was an eye-opening experience. Either he’s the best actor in the world and should be given an Oscar for his performance, or he is not the evil monster I thought he had become. I’m left confused, unsure of what is the truth. Is this black and white or gray? I don’t know.

Or is it a case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? A lot of friends and family members have been talking about this being “midlife crisis” and I think there’s a distinct possibility that some physiological factors — perhaps even andropause (discussed in this WebMD video) — may have triggered his seemingly irrational actions over the past year or so. I’ve certainly seen him present himself as two different people, depending on circumstances. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. These days, I just don’t know who I’m dealing with.

But to be fair to him — which many of my friends and family members will argue is a waste of my time — I’ve tried to think about some of the things that led to the downfall of our relationship. I’m not talking about how he ended it — that’s black and white to me. I’m talking about the points where we disagreed.

He said on Saturday, for example, that I wanted a business partner instead of a husband or lover. (I can’t remember his exact words, but I know he said “business partner.”) I never thought of our problems this way. I certainly wanted a loving husband: someone to do things with, cuddle with, make love with. Someone to plan and share a life with. And I think we did have that kind of relationship for most of our 29 years together. But I admit that I also hoped he could be part of my business life.

There were two reasons for this:

  • For the past 8 years or so, he’d been bouncing from one unsatisfying job to another, never really finding a job that was a good fit for him. Throughout that time, I offered him options to work with me part time in my business endeavors — real estate, FBO management, and helicopter charters — hoping it would help me grow the businesses enough to support both of us. But he never seemed interested in fully committing to the work I needed him to do. More often than not, he’d let me down and I’d give up. The last regular job he had before we split was making him absolutely miserable and I wanted so badly to help him — even going so far as to offer to relieve him of the debt he had from a property he’d bought that had gone underwater with the housing crisis. But he simply wouldn’t let me help.
  • Around the time we got married in 2006, he promised that he’d join me in my business when he turned 55. Since then, I’ve been planning and working hard to make this transition not only easy for him but financially feasible for both of us. Although he broke this promise — he turned 56 in May — I always had hope that he’d still fulfill it. I saw a great future for us, migrating north in the summer for work, goofing off wherever we wanted to for the rest of the year. A sort of semi-retirement. I thought we were on the same page with this goal. He never told me we weren’t. He only said he wasn’t ready “yet.”

I’m trying to think back on these things, trying hard to see them from his point of view. But it’s difficult, probably because he wasn’t honest with me when they happened. Was he just agreeing to things I suggested and pretending they weren’t a problem for him the same way we tell “white lies” to spare people’s feelings? I don’t know. I hope not. I value truth — I want my life partner to always be truthful to me, no matter how much it hurts. (“Yes, that dress makes you look fat.”)

But he waited until our relationship was over — and he’d replaced me with another woman — before telling me the truth in a long overdue conversation at the edge of a parking lot.

And that hurts.

It also makes me wonder just how many of those 29 years was spent living with lies.

Why did he keep putting off the conversation the marriage counsellor said we should have? Had he already planned his escape from me? That’s what I’m left wondering. Is he evil after all? What is the truth?

Twisting the Truth

But even the truth can be twisted into something that’s not quite true. Something black and white can be turned into something gray.

That’s what I’m facing now. Certain facts — truths — are being used as “evidence” of something that really didn’t happen as described. This is being done primarily by exaggerating the importance of these facts, blowing them out of proportion, and neglecting to present other facts that reveal their true significance.

Here’s a purely hypothetical example. Suppose you bought a small house as a rental property. You chose the building, you made the downpayment, you got the mortgage in your name, you were making all the payments. You were the property owner and solely financially responsible for it. Now suppose you needed to move some furniture and do some repair work. You ask a friend of yours for help and he says yes. You move the furniture together. He fixes a leaky faucet while you scrub the toilets. There’s no talk of payment for his services; he seems happy enough just to let you buy him lunch or spend the rest of the day doing something else with him. Meanwhile, throughout your friendship, he asks for similar favors to help him with things he needs done and you’re more than willing to help. This goes on occasionally over the course of a few years. Eventually, you get tired of being a landlord and sell the property at a profit.

Now, years later, imagine that friend stepping forward and saying, “Hey, you owe me a piece of that profit because I helped you manage the property and you never paid me.” He doesn’t mention any of the things you did to help him out over the years.

The truth is, he did help you with some of your management chores. The truth is, you didn’t pay him with cash for his time or efforts. But can he twist these truths to prove that he had a financial interest in the property? I guess he could try.

Is it right? Well, I could launch into yet another long discussion of right vs. wrong, but it would likely read very much like my truth vs. lies discussion here.

Everyone seems to have their own idea of what’s right and what’s wrong. Personal ethics apparently vary from one person to the next.

Even when someone knows deep down inside that a path he’s going down is morally or ethically wrong, he can convince himself that it’s justified, often by reminding himself of the truths that support his path. It’s easier to look at something with a sort of “tunnel vision” that only shows the facts you want to see than to see the big picture and all the facts and make an ethical conclusion.

It all depends on your conscience — and whether you have one.

Deep Thoughts Indeed

This blog has only a few categories or blog topics. “Deep Thoughts” is one of them. I created the topic to categorize posts that explored issues that were more philosophical than anything else. In this topic, you’ll find posts about politics and religion, as well as thoughts I have about life, relationships, injustices, emotions, communication, and, of course, divorce.

This is where I bare my soul to readers, where I let them into not just my life, but my head. This is where I share what I think and why I think it.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me about these things. All I expect is for readers who read these posts to think about what I’m saying. Maybe my point of view isn’t the same as yours, but maybe reading what I think can help you understand how others might think.

At the same time, I welcome non-abusive comments from readers. What you have to say about my blogs posts can help me better understand the way you and others think.

This discussion of truth was difficult for me to write — mostly because I had to draw on recent experiences to illustrate the points I was trying to make. Those recent experiences have been extremely painful to me. Every day brings more confusion, more disappointment, and often more pain.

Although I have such strong feelings for the idea of truth and want to see it throughout my world and life, I know that’s not much more than a pipe dream. Truth is hard to come by — which is what probably makes it so precious to me. Lies can and do hurt. And truth can be twisted so far that it could become a lie.

But is it too much to hope for truth and honor and ethics in our everyday life?

I hope not. Because when we get to the point where truth, honor, and ethics are no more than old-fashioned concepts defined in a dictionary, I don’t think life would be worth living.

6 thoughts on “What Is Truth?

  1. I one hundred percent agree with you that there is nothing worse (well…I suppose there are other things worse)…but really…not much is worse than when someone says something about you that is a total lie…and it’s something really bad…and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s horrible. I’m sorry you are going through that…I hope you will be out of the situation soon.

  2. We can’t control what people think, how they act or what they say. We can try to model what we think is right but not everyone recognizes the value. The real value is for ourselves. I am sorry for your recent circumstances and hope you pull through. I had some difficult coworkers and employees for many years and started each day looking at a sign that said “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.”

    • You’re right, Don. We can’t expect everyone to have the same moral standards. Apparently, some people think lying really is okay. That just makes it easier to value the people who appreciate truth.

      As for turkeys, that’s about the kindest label I’d put on the people who are trying to make my life a living hell. But maybe it does apply. Thanks!

  3. I used to think that lying was a despicable thing. But when I see an entire political party shamelessly constantly lying, and then lie about ever having said it, maybe I’m expecting too much. What are they passing on to our kids. Is it ok to do or say anything to win an election?

    • It is despicable. But our standards and values as a society these days are so screwed up, no one really seems surprised about the lies. Does that me we should lower our standards and stoop to their level? Hell, no! But I’m very careful about the people I deal with now. Unfortunately, I have to assume every person I meet is a liar and then hope I’m wrong.

What do you think?