Truth-telling or spin?

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

"Tell all the Truth but tell it slant." This first line of an Emily Dickinson poem seemed, at first, a 19th-century observation of a 21st-century practice. When I reacquainted myself with the poem, I discovered that it contained a profound lesson, that, tangentially, helps in our sorting through the daily interpretations of information known as spin.

The poem confirms that there is absolute Truth, but we must deal with it wisely. This reminds me of Mary Baker Eddy's advice in her essay titled "Caution in the Truth." "No wise mother, though a graduate of Wellesley College, will talk to her babe about the problems of Euclid" ("Unity of Good," pg. 6).

Today, most of us are babes when it comes to political and diplomatic problems, for instance, as with the agenda for the United Nations conference on racism to be held in Durban, South Africa, which begins tomorrow. Most of us are even more lost concerning much scientific research. We need interpreters. Recognizing that individuals with different standpoints will offer differing conclusions when considering the same information, we can listen to all with intelligent interest. We may even pursue the "whole story" through Internet links, and find insights that protect us from uninformed views held by ourselves or others.

Deliberate lies and disinformation, however, are something else entirely. One time, my job was to write promotional copy for a particular kind of processed food. The institute that hired me was composed of several different companies who had banded together to create a public acceptance for their food group. I had sincerely believed the research that was used to prove their claims was impartial, and had no trouble writing the copy, which individual companies tapped into in order to sell their product.

One day at a social occasion, the man who set up the experiments at a respected and well-known university had had too much to drink and confided to me. "I live in fear that someday," he said, "I will set up an experiment in a way that will not come out favorably for us." I couldn't believe what I had heard and was very disturbed by it. Like most people, I eschewed dishonesty in advertising and wanted no part in this deception. I felt helpless; I knew that I didn't have the evidence to expose this skewed research and that whistle-blowers had to have much more than an intoxicated man's confession. I knew I couldn't write that kind of copy anymore.

As I prayed about it, to my great surprise I was offered a job on a television program whose sponsors were carefully screened and whose commercials were scrupulously incorporated with the utmost integrity. The program was known in our area for its trustworthiness, and my boss was one of the most honest businesswomen I've ever known.

One of the lessons I learned from this was that prayer helps us as we heed that age-old advice to be in the world but not of it. Another lesson was that the sincere desire to serve God, named in the Bible as Truth, enables us to be less frequently duped by commercial lies and other deceptions. Most important, having to sort out my own role in telling the truth has made me more aware of absolute spiritual truth and given me greater respect, even reverence, for those committed to serving God, Truth.

When Jesus was confronted by Pilate, who had the power to acquit him or condemn him to death, he chose not to participate in the divergent political and religious debate surrounding him. He said: "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.... Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?" (John 18:37, 38) Pilate's question, which some consider to be a cynical denial of there being any absolute truth, still resounds in a world haunted by mere speculation. Jesus, however, proved that there was absolute Truth, which is Life itself, or God, unchangeable and without beginning or end.

While admitting that we catch only glimpses of absolute Truth and must approach it intelligently and perhaps gradually, we can also recognize that our prayer to the God who is Truth helps us in our daily lives to sort through spin, sort out lies - and keeps us honest.

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