We’re living in a time where truth is brushed aside in favor of the spin. Truth telling is branded as fake news or alternative facts when it encounters a differing belief system. Instead of investigating actual facts, many politicians and other leaders want us to simply accept their words as doctrine, to deny what we see and hear as somehow being misrepresented, and to dismiss anything that we don’t agree with as a lie. I’ve never seen such a blatant promotion of dishonesty, and sometimes I wonder how far down this road we’ll go before we find our way back.
When I started my undergraduate program, I had declared a journalism major. However, by the time I’d completed Journalism 101, I’d decided that it was far too unethical of a job for me. I didn’t want to be an ambulance chaser, and I certainly didn’t want to care more about ratings than truth. I switched majors and studied human behavior instead. I got my undergraduate and graduate degrees in counseling and psychology and went on to work in the field for a few years before opting to return to my writing roots.
But I didn’t see myself as a journalist. I started as a blogger speaking my truth and writing fiction on the side in hopes of one day embracing a career as a novelist. While those fiction stories contained truth, my work with online journals told the real, raw, unadulterated stories of my life. It was my truth telling, and as the country I live in began to veer in an unethical direction, it was my way of staying the course. I hadn’t compromised before, and I wouldn’t now.
I value integrity, and one cannot possess integrity without honesty. When our leaders dismiss the truth and are caught in blatant lies, they are without integrity. Regardless of party affiliation or how they vote, what matters is that they have chosen a false narrative over the quest for truth, and we should all be deeply concerned about anyone who does this. We should not align ourselves with someone who disregards truth. If they will compromise on a value system as simple as honesty, what else will they see as optional? While I refuse to debate morality, as it is often subjective, I hold fast to ethics, and we should be holding our leadership to a standard of basic ethics.
It can be difficult to speak to truth in an era of fake news. So many people don’t want to hear it. It makes them uncomfortable. We can certainly lose friends for speaking up about what we’re seeing and questioning the veracity of what we’re hearing. If we want to check sources, we’ll likely annoy many people. But we shouldn’t be more worried about other people’s discomfort than we are about finding the truth. I’m sure I’ve lost friends from simply pointing out when a fake news story is shared. Is it better to let people believe lies or educate them on the truth?
One controversial example at the height of U.S. news right now is the investigation into Russian election interference. While Democrats have been strongly in support of this investigation, Republican leaders have repeatedly disparaged it. But shouldn’t we want an investigation to clear the air? If the GOP is sure that there was no wrongdoing, shouldn’t they be unafraid to have that verified? Why is there so much fear around finding out the truth so that our democratic processes can be protected in the future? Then, we can take it a step further: why isn’t the current President imposing sanctions on Russia when our country is actively investigating how they interfered with the 2016 presidential election? It would be the most sensible thing to do, pending the results of that investigation. Fear around truth seeking is a well-known sign of guilt. If there was nothing to be found, they wouldn’t have a problem with someone looking.
This also applies to us on a personal level. It’s easy to avoid looking too deeply at our own lives and behaviors. If we do this, we may be forced to confront some uncomfortable truths. We may see things about ourselves that we don’t like and will have to either accept or put in the hard work to change. We may see things about people in our lives that we don’t like and will have to either accept or change. Their may be difficult choices in evaluating our lives. It can be easy to deny the truth, to spin it into a more pleasing story, or to outright lie about it in order to look good to others.
But truth seeking, if we choose it, is powerful. In the words of Gloria Steinem, the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. If we decide that we will seek out the truth no matter what, we’re almost certainly going to encounter discomfort. It’s not an easy path to take. It will mean that we can’t align ourselves with leaders who are not truth seekers. It will mean that we need a support system who understands that there’s no such thing as alternative facts. We’ll learn to separate ourselves from being who cry fake news every time they disagree with a fact because we want to make sure that any news we share is from an unbiased or even academic source. We’ll pledge allegiance to the scientific method, to believing what we know to be true, and to be open to changing our minds if the facts show that we’re wrong.
Telling our stories is essential, but we can tell them as fictional narratives of the life we think we should be leading or we can tell them as autobiographies that reflect a commitment to telling the truth even when it doesn’t show us in a favorable light. We can journal them or tell them to our friends. We can submit personal essays to public forums, blog about them, or even share the raw truth on social media without adding a filter. We can refuse to stand with people who care nothing for truth. Because in the age of fake news and the false narrative, it is more important than ever to stand for the truth.