You Want the Truth?

It’s a simple question I’m asking. It’s right there in the title of my post, and it’s the entire purpose of this site. But allow me to rephrase for clarification: do you care about the truth?

I’m not just asking if you value honesty. I’m asking if you care about the truth itself. If everything and everyone you believed in—your most basic convictions about right and wrong—were false, would you want to know the truth? Consider your answer carefully. It says a lot more about you than you might realize.

You might say no: “No, I would rather go on trusting something that gives me hope and comfort—even if it’s false—than find out that it’s all wrong.” That’s an honest answer, but you’re essentially admitting that the truth doesn’t matter. You’re not so concerned with knowing and believing what’s right as you are with saving your pride or staying in your comfort zone. You would rather continue living in your “own little world” than admit you were wrong or change your way of thinking. That’s understandable, but it’s hardly noble, and it won’t earn you any respect or credibility. Therefore, I have nothing else to say about it.

Let’s assume you said yes (and that you’re being honest): “Yes, I would rather know that I’m wrong than go on believing a lie.” Presumably, that means you value the truth over your own opinions (and the opinions of others). You wish to be objective, fair, and informed on all matters. (Or you’re the kind of person who wants to know for curiosity’s sake but then ignores any facts you don’t like. That’s called “running from the truth,” and it leaves us bitter and miserable in the long run. I wouldn’t recommend it.)

If you would rather know the truth, then a logical question follows: do you? It’s natural to have confidence in your opinions (otherwise, they wouldn’t be your opinions), but just because you’re convinced doesn’t mean you’re correct. Have you actually “done your homework?” Because if you can’t clearly demonstrate the validity of those opinions, you might want to ask yourself how you differ from those who were fooled into believing a lie.

There are only two ways to discover your mistakes: find out for yourself or find out from others. And both methods require an open mind. How can you really know if you’re right or wrong about anything if you only hear one side of the argument? You need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your own position to fully understand. Don’t just assume you’re right. Be sure of what you believe. And take your time. Finding the truth is a process of discovery, not a sudden decision.

A wise man named Socrates once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. In other words, if we don’t look for the truth, we may never find meaning. And I think he’s right. A person might have all the correct answers, but the only way to know they’re correct is to examine them—and reexamine them from time to time. Compare what you believe against other viewpoints, and don’t settle for cheap, easy answers. Be naturally skeptical, not gullible, of all claims in your search for knowledge. New discoveries are made every day, and history keeps filling up with experiences to learn from. We just have to pay attention.

Sure, it can be difficult separating fact from fiction, especially for the casual observer. And there’s always a danger of believing bad information. But the secret here isn’t simply knowing the truth; sometimes that kind of certainty is impossible. It’s about learning how to learn: how to admit what we don’t know so that we can learn; how to identify the best answer, even if it we don’t like it; when to remain undecided because the evidence is insufficient; when to believe in something we can’t prove because the alternative makes no sense. It’s about knowing that we should never stop learning.

And none of this means that we can’t be sure of things. On the contrary, what’s the point in seeking truth if we can’t hope to know that we’ve found it? (That’s what Socrates wrestled with for his entire career.) But we need to know why we believe what we do and how we arrived at our conclusion, even if we’re correct. It’s a lot like algebra: we might have the right answer, but if we can’t “show our work,” we may have gotten there incorrectly.

Remember, I’m not asking if you want to change your worldview; I’m asking if you would want to know that you should. Because that means being open to the “other side” of an argument. You can’t know the truth if you’re closed-minded. The only way to see is by opening your eyes, and the only way to learn is to listen. If your beliefs—religious, political, whatever—could be wrong (as they most likely could) and you would want to know (since we’re assuming you answered “yes” to the initial question), then you should be willing to learn the error of your ways.

If you prefer the truth, why should you be afraid of challenging even your dearest and most deeply held beliefs? If they’re all wrong, wouldn’t it be better to find out than go on practicing and supporting them? If you’re so sure that they’re right, what do you have to lose? There’s no danger in hearing a bad argument, and if you’re afraid of being fooled so easily, how do you know that you weren’t already? If you’re afraid to challenge your convictions, you probably already have doubts. Testing them can only benefit you in the end: either your mistakes will be corrected or you’ll have more reason to believe than ever. Ultimately, the truth should hold up to scrutiny.

One quick thought: don’t pretend to be seeking the truth if you’re really just looking for evidence to support your cause. We can find reasons to justify anything if we look hard enough. But finding the truth means accepting the outcome no matter what the cost. Truth is not a smorgasbord from which we can pick our favorites. We can’t accept the answers we like while dismissing all the rest. We have to judge them all equally and fairly. To do otherwise is hypocritical.

Look, I get it. Change is hard. It isn’t easy finding out that your worldview is a sham. I learned that firsthand. As they say, “the truth hurts.” There’s an old heartbreak song to that effect: “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” (It’s a country song, so it’s obviously about cheating.) But blissful ignorance is hardly to be coveted in matters of right and wrong. Nothing is worth believing if it isn’t true.

You may think I’m being overly serious or philosophical, but this is the question on which everything else hangs. Our religion, our politics, our family values—in every sphere of life, we should be diligent to know what’s right and correct our mistakes along the way. If we don’t value the truth above all else, we could end up on the wrong side of morality, the wrong side of history, maybe even the wrong side of eternity. If none of that concerns you, I expect your honest answer to the question would’ve been “no—I would rather go on living a lie.”

As they used to say in the ’90s, “the truth is out there.” So don’t be afraid to look for it. You may not like it, but it could save your life… or even your soul. Because once you know the truth, “the truth will set you free.”

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