The Question about Truth

I ran into one of my old professors at Barnes and Noble the other day.  He works there part time because that is how much he loves books.  So every now and then I run into him, and he is always happy to see me.  He always asks me if I am still writing, and he always tells me to write more.   He teaches LAR, which is a general writing and literature class that all freshman at USF have to take.  So I am honored that after five years of teaching many different freshman, I am still one of his more memorable students.  He was the first professor to tell me that my writing was good, and he has been encouraging me ever since.  When I started writing satire pieces for the school newspaper, he always read them and always told me the same thing, “keep writing.”

However, the other day he told me it was more than just my writing that vaulted me to his student hall of fame.  It was my response to the question he asks every class on the first day.  He asked if I remembered, I said vaguely.   He told me that every year he writes the word truth on the board, and asks his students to come up and write in one word what the word truth means to them.  He told me every year he has waited for someone to have a better answer than me, but no one has yet.  The scene was starting to come back to me.  I could see a shy freshman me, nervous to go up to the board because I hadn’t yet learned how to share my thoughts.  But I couldn’t remember what I wrote.  I felt a little guilty that over five years and hundreds of students, this professor thought I had the best answer and I couldn’t even remember what it was.  As if to rub salt in my wound, he asked me if I remembered what word I wrote.  Ashamed, I said I didn’t.  “Void,” he said, “You wrote that truth is void.”

I have always been a little bit of a rebellious thinker, the type that likes to think outside of the box.  So while this didn’t quite surprise me, I was curious as to what freshman me thought when she wrote that truth is void.  I know I didn’t mean truth is void in the sense that the world is a hopeless place where you can’t trust anything or anyone.  I wasn’t quite that angsty as a teenager.  And although I wasn’t a science major, I do know that there are some truths in science that are more or less absolute.

Truth is a big word, one that is scary for me to talk about without people thinking that I have completely dropped off the deep end.  But I am going to try, so here it goes.

Since I relate my thinking to the social sciences, I think I meant that social truths are more static than we like to believe.  Meaning that truth can so easily be skewed depending on the perception we have at the time.  There is no absolute truth when it comes to our perception of the world.

Let me give you an example of this from my own life to better make sense of this.  I was a criminal justice major, and like so many people in America, I believed that criminals deserved to be locked up.  Then I spent over a year working in a penitentiary, and my perception changed.  Because suddenly I didn’t see inmates as dangerous people who made the world a worse place.  I knew a lot of inmates that were better people than some of the people that strut around in a suit and tie.  Suddenly I saw inmates as the people that society had forgotten about.  The people who grew up in foster care or on the streets.  The people that we as society don’t know how to deal with so instead we just hide them behind prison bars.

My perception changed, and so did the truth attached to it.  Now it breaks my heart if someone tells me that they think a criminal deserves to be locked up.  I just want to shake them and say, “You don’t even know what you are talking about.  You have no idea of the horrors that are locked in the closets of their childhood.  Who are you to judge?  You who have grown up with a place to call home and a family that loves you and supports you.  Who are you to say what they deserve, because it certainly wasn’t the childhood that they got.  So yes they grew up as deviants, but who is to say that you would have not turned out the same if you were in their shoes?”   But I don’t, I just bite my tongue and try to offer grace because I know they do not have the same perceptions as me.

My point is that sometimes we can think one thing to be true until we experience something that shows us a different side that we never considered.  So I don’t want you to think that I am saying we should never believe anything.  Not at all.  Instead I want you to look at the world with open eyes and discover what it is that you believe and why.  Because I think so often we accept things as “truth” because we are told to, but we never stop to think why we believe something to be true.

Maybe it is just the way I am wired to see the world as gray instead of just blank and white.  Maybe for others truth is more set in stone.  But for me I have to analyze everything from every point of view before I am willing to set an opinion on something.

Truth is a big word, one that holds a lot of punch because truth holds such promise.  It is the promise of something to believe in, something to put our faith and hope in, something that we can trust to always be true.  Until one morning we wake up and realize just how empty truth can really be when we just accept it without hesitation.

So five years later, do I still believe that truth is void?  Yes, yes I do.  This is just some thoughts about truth, but if truth is indeed based on our perceptions, then I would love to hear yours.  How do you view truth?  In keeping with my professors original question, what one word do you associate with truth?  Please leave your comments below I would love to hear them.

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