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Nick Mezacapa: What is the truth?

Be gentle with the truth. Work to make the truth an instrument in the construction of a loving conclusion.

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Post Bulletin columnist Nick Mezacapa June 10, 2021. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

What is the truth? We live in a time of “fake news,” “photoshopped” images, and waking up to things that we thought were true, but that really aren’t. What is the truth?

The truth is not known to be comfortable. I have heard it said that "the truth hurts." It’s hard to reach the truth is some cases, but maybe that’s a good thing because we might like what we find when we get there! Take divorce, for example. Sometimes a long, seemingly wonderful marriage ends up not being what it seemed to be, and it ends up being a divorce. Painful.

On the other hand, maybe we actually know the truth all along. After observing and listening to the actions and circumstances around us, we can figure it out, for the most part. Take, for example, the wide variety of ways that we can abuse our good health. The truth is that we know that those abuses have consequences, but we ignore the statistics and the science, and slide along. Either we’re lucky, or eventually we suffer.

Other times, we decide what the truth is before we even get there! We decide that we don’t want to go to the opera, for example, because we don’t like opera. But, we go anyway and we prove to ourselves that we were right. We don’t like opera!

Another thing to consider about what is true, is that there are other hybrids of truth that complicate the search. Truth can be situational or subjective. (Please take caution and be aware that the situations described in the following may be unsettling to some readers.)

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Situational truth refers to a choice that has to be made about being truthful or not. Here’s the scene: You are a high school history teacher and the senior captain of the high school dance team is in your class. They will be performing at halftime at tonight’s basketball game, and the senior dancer's ailing grandmother has come from Illinois to see her dance. However, you catch the dancer cheating on today’s quarterly exam. You take her exam away and ask to see her after class.

Do you report the truth of this violation of the school's cheating policy to the principal, for which she would be suspended from dancing for tonight’s game and two more, or do you hold back the truth, and work this out in some other way?

Then there is the subjective side of the truth. It’s an old example. Two people witness an accident and each one comes to different conclusions about what they saw happen. The details are very different, and are often opposites!

Of course, the real truth there is that we all see things differently.

For me these examples of the hybrid truth are distasteful when we impose our self-gratifying rationale onto the situation. In both cases, compromising values and various prejudices depart from the healthiest expression of the truth, and protect rather than prove.

In the Christian story, Pilate interrogates Jesus and asks, “What is truth?” Jesus never gets a chance to answer. Maybe the answer is in the silence…

My conclusion after all of this ‘intellectualizing’ about the truth is this:

Be truthful. Face the truth. Tell the truth.

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Be gentle with the truth. Work to make the truth an instrument in the construction of a loving conclusion.

As hard as it may be to find the truth and to build trust, it is a critical effort for a world that needs both.

Nick Mezacapa, of Rochester, served as the rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, across the street from Mayo Clinic, for nearly 30 years. Send comments on columns to Jeff Pieters, jpieters@postbulletin.com.

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