How much does truth matter to you?
Mm, what’d you say?
Mm, that you only meant well
Well of course you did
Mm, what’d you say?
Mm, that it’s all for the best
Of course it is
Mm, what’d you say?
Mm, that it’s just what we need
You decided this
– “Hide and Seek”, Imogen Heap
It’s a cliche at this point to say American culture is at a crossroads. Each generation says and feels that “it’s never been like this before.” And they would be correct. Our moment is no different; how we talk and write about it is, however.
We’ve decided that our approved communication style for intaking from media and with each other online should be made up of hot takes and quick sound bites. Every thought must be boiled down to some witty sharp essence that’s equally on point and sharp and leaves nobody standing in its wake but also short enough to tweet. We all love a good takedown (thanks, reality TV.) Everything we read or see – and by extension what we write or say – has been exaggerated for the theatrics of it and because we crave conflict and edginess.
What I suspect is the majority of us do not meaningfully feel and think so deeply about every little thing we say or read or share in such dramatic fashion. Yet, here we are online engaging in this manner and deeming it acceptable content from others and ourselves. This unhealthy draw to speak in hyperbole and overstating even the simplest of facts creates new problems for us in how we talk and think and understand ideas and people. We’ve moved from those who speak words with the highest level of clarity and accuracy to those who say the thing that gets the most attention, increasingly at the expense of being completely or remotely true.
This is dangerous.
I WANT TO BELIEVE
We’re all guilty of leaning into any information and sources that reinforce what we want to believe to be true. As responsible and reasonable people, it’s critical for us to recognize our bias and to validate and occasionally challenge what we learn through multiple sources. Reading various interpretations and recordings of historical events or philosophical ideas, for example, opens our minds up to new ways of understanding. Some sources will affirm our knowledge while others will make us ask questions. It’s good to allow ourselves to take in different viewpoints and more importantly, be able to acknowledge we can be wrong on a given topic or idea and to change our mindset.
Memes and “photo quotes”
Hail, the Meme and its close cousin, Quote from a Public Figure on an Image! Perhaps the most common “tool” to share ideas we’re too lazy to put into our own words. We think they should have so much impact but they rarely do. Sharing quotes or memes without context rarely get the point across. By the very nature of the medium, they lack detail.
Good authors will share meaningful quotes from other authors, but they add their thoughtful perspective in their books or articles. When we fail to do the same when sharing, there is no reference point for the reader to understand why we found something worth repeating. Never “leave it up to the reader” to figure it out. Do not expect others to be mind readers and then be upset when they misinterpreted what you intended to communicate. If you find any content important enough to share, you can write 1-2 sentences supporting your reasoning.
Over the summer, I pointed out to a few friends who all happened to share a “quote” (as an image) from a book that it was made up. It was just written in the style and tone of the book and author. One friend deleted the post upon being notified. However, a couple of the others essentially said, “Hey thanks for letting me know but isn’t the quote still thought-provoking and therefore still relevant?” My answer was no. If the idea was strong enough on its own, there are zero reasons to provide attribution to an author (and one who is deceased at that.) It was fascinating and frustrating to watch the justification to support this idea despite the false attribution.
This was a low-risk situation, but it becomes troublesome when it infiltrates into higher stakes situations with misattribution of quotes or straight-up made up quotes or statements about events, people, dealings of governments, politics, health, etc. are involved.
Truth (in Love) Matters
We can all agree that believing words and ideas that are demonstrably true are vital to being part of a functioning society. When you hear or read something you know has any factual error, what do you do? Do you “let it slide” because it makes you feel good or because “part of it is true” or “it’s the meaning behind the thing that’s important”? Doing so dilutes how you value truth. Once someone willingly chooses to align and support partial truths or apparent lies, I ask myself what else that person may be willing to bend on for the sake of personal convenience and comfort.
What is it we stand for? Why do we knowingly choose to support known falsified information to support our position on a given topic?
We call out children when we catch them in a lie. Why shouldn’t we (lovingly) do the same with one another now? Why aren’t we better at this with each other? Perhaps it’s fear of conflict or of making things awkward with a family member or friend. Speaking truth can be difficult, indeed. However, how we speak truth and how we call each other out on lies matters greatly. We must do it with humility and love. Unnecessary brashness is not beneficial. I hope that we are all more willing to listen to one another, have real conversations, and open our minds when we talk online and in person.
Truthful words should matter. I am deeply pained to see how often they don’t seem to be for people anymore. 2020 has repeatedly proven very real consequences exist when truth and facts are ignored for the sake of “personal opinions” and feelings. We have to remember that our words have the power to give life and in some cases to literally take it. So choose them carefully.
Speak truthfully. Speak honestly. Speak lovingly.