You Can’t Handle the Truth
M.M. De Voe
So I’m curious what will emerge in one hour of barely-edited thought process. Becky offered a guest-spot here, and I was intrigued. She told me that the blog idea came from her opinion that there isn’t enough truth in the world.
Everyone seems to be lying, from memoirists (eye-roll, James Frey – but WTF? Go Ask Alice was also fake?? Horrible!) to politicians (insert any name). And from fake news (love the new huge disclaimer on the Borowitz Report) to real news (“It’s not fake! It’s just biased!”) –so where to do we turn when we really want the truth?
Or do we really want the truth at all?
I remember being a kid and telling my mother exactly what I thought she wanted to hear. I got very good at this. I didn’t lie, exactly, but I definitely omitted all the details that would upset her and focused only on those that would lead to a more peaceful existence for both of us. It was a decision born of a lot of strife – at first I naturally told her the exact truth with no filters – but it would lead to her telling me what to do, and then we would argue, and usually someone would cry. The next time a similar event rolled around, I would tell her a more modified truth, until finally the omissions outnumbered the facts. But here’s what’s remarkable: at this point, our relationship smoothed out entirely. She was able to accept me as the person I was presenting to her. I was able to live my life without feeling constantly criticized by the one person whose opinion (ridiculously) still mattered to me more than any other. I didn’t want to disappoint her. And she really didn’t want the truth – we both wanted reality to match our expectations of what reality should be: a decent mother/daughter relationship without too much arguing.
A mother myself, I hope my kids find a more open mind in me than I did in my parents (though to be fair, I’m sure those opinions bent from whatever their initial standpoints were!) —but I am not sure anyone is ever cured of the desire to own a reality that matches their hopes and dreams. It is crushing to hear that someone you once idolized has done terrible things (thanks Bill Cosby).
But is it better not to know?
I don’t know. We want the pretty picture. We really do. We crave it. It hurts us to watch all our heroes get dragged through mud, either because someone else exposed them or because they themselves simply became too much of a mess to contain their own flaws.
The truth is that all humans are flawed. We mess up. We make ridiculous, horrible decisions. We have skeletons in our closets. We sometimes LIKE the skeletons we have in our closets. But all of us ultimately want to be good people, don’t we? No matter our flaws, we try to balance things out. We try to atone for our weakness in one area by being strong in another. Isn’t this what humans do instinctively? We discover that the nasty cashier has forgotten to charge us for the milk and instead of telling her, we give a dollar to the next homeless guy we see? We are constantly readjusting our karma.
But this post is supposed to be about telling the truth, not behaving in an honest way. (This hour-long limit is madness! You try it!) We want the truth while at the same time, we want the world to be a better place than it is.
So how can we get there without lying all the time?
Curated news feeds are not the answer. Deleting every Facebook friend or Tweep who ever disagreed with you politically isn’t a better answer than sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting La La La. We have to be better than that. But also: they have to behave like adults.
We have lost the skill of argument without attack. At a recent party, many of my friends were in a discussion about compromise and how instead of celebrating a hard-fought compromise, everyone from parents to politicians to corporate watchdogs denigrate the very idea of it. For some reason, instead of evolving as thoughtful adults, we are spiraling back into dichotomous thinkers, where there is no cooperation, there is only a winner and a loser, and heaven help you if you are perceived to be the loser.
We need to reestablish the value of negotiation, to raise the value of compromise.
How? Is there a solution? I don’t know. I just read all seven of the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories to my kids and I was struck again and again by how stoic the parents are in those books. Nothing causes drama. Not when their daughter goes blind. Not when they lose the farm to locusts. Never. They face things practically and they don’t get hyper about it. They marry as early as in their teens, they move without transition into adulthood and responsibility, and then they deal with nature for the rest of their lives. They never indulge, but they also do not judge others. They live simply and are content with what they have. They celebrate success as humbly as they accept failure. I am smitten by this unflappable adulthood. Faced with images of one red-faced talking head after another, one screeching angry parent after another, I ache for a real adult. Someone who is a rock, that waves can crash upon and who will still be standing there. A Margaret Thatcher. Someone solid.
Is it our constant American ambitious dream to “have more” that fosters the dissatisfaction that leads to the constant lying? I am reading Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down and in it, he says that the downfall of our generation (and this was written decades ago and about Great Britain not America) is that it is no longer enough to make something or do something—we have to also BE someone. How do you “be someone” without gently reinventing yourself, the way I used to do for my mother? For generations, all of our celebrities were inventions. None of them was real. Natalie Wood? Marilyn Monroe? Elvis? Our graveyards are littered with people who tried to be perfect for the sake of society.
Humans are flawed. But humans also need heroes. A panicky thought: we as a culture have begun to celebrate flaws and horrifying actions and villainy, because there is no other way to find authentic heroes–? Is this possible?
Not only possible, but likely.
The truth is, we are all flawed and unless we celebrate the honest overcoming of those flaws, we will be duped into thinking that simply admitting those flaws is enough. I don’t think it is. Let’s look at children again. I want my children to trust me enough to tell me if they mess up, but I also then want them to be strong enough to try again, not just to wallow in their mess. I am there to support them in their attempts, and there for them when they fail. I would like our politicians to be equally honest: not to laugh off or celebrate their own wrongs, but to quietly face them and to actually try to be better next time. Carrie Fisher whose recent death hit so hard was a real hero: she never said overcoming her weaknesses was easy, but she did it anyway. And once done, she lived honestly both in and out of the spotlight.
At least as far as we know.
About the Author: M. M. De Voe’s short fiction has won or been shortlisted for more than 20 literary prizes including three Pushcart nominations and she has won multiple grants including the Manhattan Community Arts Fund, Fund for Creative Communities, Columbia Writing Fellowship, and an Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Grant for Historical Fiction with Gay Positive Characters. Founder and Executive Director of Pen Parentis, she holds a Columbia University MFA, and is the Lithuanian voice of OnStar.