Communication Made Easy — Speaking, Editing, Writing, Marketing, Networking Answers

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but words themselves are at the basis of all communication. Whether we are communicating for business or personal reasons, our spoken and written words matter. These posts will address issues and answer questions related primarily to business communications, as they affect writing, credibility, marketing, and networking.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Getting a Handle on the Truth

You can’t handle the truth!

What mildly informed filmgoer over the age of 25 doesn’t instantly recognize Jack Nicholson’s line from A Few Good Men? The fact is, however, that it’s more difficult than ever to know the truth, let alone handle the truth.

I was having a conversation the other night during a happy hour get-together for my Toastmasters club. One topic of discussion that frequently arises in our club, as a subject for prepared speeches and Table Topics* alike, is global warming. A member who has become a good friend of mine is firmly of the mindset that Al Gore and his cadre of followers, while seemingly well-intentioned, are oh-so-ever misinformed. Others, vocal environmentalists, believe we need to heed Al’s message and change our ways before we destroy ourselves. My feeling, personally, is that the truth lies somewhere in between.

During the happy hour conversation, I related my opinion that although we humans certainly have a huge impact on our dear planet, the climate cycles of our solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and the universe en toto, are just that: cyclical. Temperatures continue to increase, and decrease, as they have for millions of years . . . and my intuitive response is that our impact is minimal, when you look at it from a cosmic perspective. This is not to say we should ignore the obvious and overt pollution our cars and factories are wreaking on the planet. Yes – humans are having an impact. It's about the degree – and the focus – of the impact where the conversation seems to get muddled.

The problem is that we don’t really know the answer, the truth. If the scientists themselves cannot agree – and when has science ever agreed 100 percent about anything? – how can we, the members of the General Public, expect to know the truth? Actually, we can’t know. And more to the point, we will never know. Not just about the greenhouse effect, but about almost anything, really. What causes cancer. Why some people are prone to diabetes. Whether a vegetarian diet is healthier than a meat-based diet. Whether salt actually increases cholesterol. Truisms about all of these abound . . . but the facts prove tricky to prove. Statistics are malleable. "Experts" are available for hire to the highest bidder. One lab test proves one thing, while the other has rock-solid evidence to the contrary.

And the funny thing is, in spite of all that, we actually have the hubris to believe we do know, can know, should know . . . about everything. From what kind of underwear the President wears to this athlete’s sexual preference to that minister’s financial profile. It’s the Information Age, for heaven’s sake – of course we can and should know the truth about everything! It’s not only our duty, it’s our right!!

“You can’t handle the truth.” I have to say, I don’t think a truer movie line has ever been uttered. Seriously. We can’t handle the truth. We think we want to know who, what, why, how the Iraq war was engineered. But do we, really? And what would it help if we knew that we truly are engaged in a war for oil? What if we knew Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code was more fact than fiction? What if the VP’s hunting “incident” and Pat Tillman’s friendly fire death are only tip of the iceberg, in terms of what the current administration has been covering up for the last six years? What if we knew that Flight 93 was really taken down by a ground-to-air missile? What if we knew that George Bush had really been “in on” the planning of 9/11?

They are all fantastic ideas, with smart, serious people who believe them. And I have to tell you that following the Y2K debacle – in which we spent between $200 and $600 BILLION worldwide to fix a problem we’d known was coming for 100 years – no conspiracy theory is truly too outrageous to be possible. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, mind you. But I don’t dismiss anyone because, at the outset, their theory seems implausible at best, or completely nuts at worst.

In a recent column describing his reaction to the death of journalist, David Halberstam, The New York Times’ Bob Herbert writes:

If there was one thing above all else that David taught us, it was to be skeptical of official accounts, to stay always on guard against the lies, fabrications, half-truths, misrepresentations, exaggerations and all other manifestations of falsehood that are fired at us like machine-gun bullets by government officials and others in high places, often with lethal results.

There it is from the horses’ mouths: Don’t believe everything you read. Don’t believe everything you see. Don’t believe everything you hear.

In this day and age of technoeverything, a picture may still be worth 1,000 words, but it’s no longer conclusive proof of anything. Fingerprints, voice data, government-issued IDs . . . all the things that used to represent proof now require our utmost scrutiny. And thinking this way can be a scary concept.

No doubt, it was easier when we could believe every word uttered by the likes of Walter Cronkite . . . but those days are long gone. Almost all media is in some way now beholden to advertisers – and when money’s at stake, truth inevitably gets compromised. It remains debatable whether our government officials ever really had the people’s best interests at heart, but the optimist in me wants to hold onto the idea that our Founding Fathers truly did believe in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. They just didn’t have the crystal ball to see where we would be today, when trying to implement such a rustic, holistic, seemingly clear-cut concept.

Knowing the “truth” comes down to one simple thing: you. My friend Vickie Champion once said that we all know everything. It’s a radical concept – but I believe it’s correct. When we get still, turn off the noise that is the TV, the cell phone, the Internet, the newspaper, the iPod, the chatter at Starbucks, we really do have an innate knowing that can guide us in all things. Whether it’s the big, big stuff, in terms of the future of our planet; whether it’s about a personal situation, like paying attention to the clues that our mate is cheating; or whether it’s the simple things, like deciding what to eat for dinner, we all know the truth. It remains up to each one of us, though, to decide if we want to listen – and what we will do, once we hear the answer.

*Table Topics is the portion of a Toastmasters meeting where participants take turns answering questions posed by one member on a given theme or subject. The purpose is to practice one’s impromptu speaking skills, as the participant must form an intelligible answer of the top of his/her head and speak for somewhere between 45 seconds and two minutes.

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