On this last day of 2019, I found myself sitting on the tarmac at Chicago O’Hare long after my scheduled departure time. Nearly an hour earlier, I had watched a frazzled gate agent recite the clearly false information about delayed crew – a lie only evidenced when, having boarded the plane, I saw the same crew that had been there all along. Then came the de-icing delay clearly falsifiable as I had already watched the plane being de-iced from the comfort of gate F-20. Sitting motionless at the gate nearly 30 minutes later, the pilot apologized for the fact the we couldn’t push back because a de-icing form confirming that de-icing had taken place was missing and without it, he couldn’t get ramp clearance to push back. And then another 30 minutes of silence before we started moving. For this nearly 2-hour delay of United flight 4852, I mused about the fact that several people had been comfortable reciting false statements to rationalize what in fact was a cascade of human error. And as I sat on the plane, I pondered the fact that for the next 90 minutes, my life was entrusted to people who had no apparent objection to lying.
This is an odd way of beginning my annual Litany of Saints post for 2019. But this year has been marked with major league dishonesty. Some of it we’ve all seen play out on the nightly news with caricatures of officials clearly dismissing observable reality with false statements. Others have been profligate abuses of business agreements I’ve made throughout the year in which written and contracted expectations have been dishonored with predictable regularity. Most deeply painful have been personal experiences in which assurances of love and relationship have been shown to be weaponized and manipulated. In short, I find that the well of gratitude that has marked many years of my life has been deeply impacted by a drought. And, as is always the case, I seek to examine this experience and see what I can learn.
My life was greatly enriched by Nic Wales who demonstrated that, regardless of the challenges I faced throughout the year, his capacity to persistently ‘show up’ as the genuine friend and colleague was as certain as the sunrise. During many of my most challenging times, his first-to-the-line spirit often rallied both my spirits and those with whom he interacted.
My year culminated with an exceptionally deep appreciation for my son Zachary who, in spite of several struggles throughout the year, declared his intention to pursue his life’s passion resulting in his move to California to begin his next pursuit as a golf coach. And, speaking of setting lofty intentions, my daughter Sienna concluded that her academic and athletic goals included being exceptional and, as a Freshman at Monticello High School – her first American school year – was a member of the varsity cheerleading squad (winning District titles) and has been achieving near perfect marks in her classes.
I observed my friend, colleague, and source of inspiration – Amanda Gore – strive to achieve new levels of elegance and excellence in her dynamic public speaking career and marveled at the discipline evidenced in her relentless commitment to integrate perspectives she learned no matter how uncomfortable that transformation may be.
And above all, I witnessed Kim Martin incarnate her stated desire to break patterns of thinking and behavior that had restricted her living giving life to a much more dynamic and vibrant person than the woman I met nearly 5 years ago.
These – and others – earned my respect not for what they said they would do, be, or manifest, but rather for the fact that they actually did their truth.
Which leads me to my point this year. I’m afraid that truth – like many other constructs – is a cognitive fallacy. Let me explain. We are all sensitive beings (in an apathetic sense). By this I mean that as we transit life, we are aware of our lived experience informed by our surroundings, our interactions, and our synthesis of stimuli. The irony in my use of ‘apathy’ is that while we sense and perceive – that which we sense and perceive is selective to our conditioning, recollection, and implicit values. In other words, the exact same experience does not and cannot be replicated with identity in another. So, while we seem to obsess about “truth” as a theoretical abstraction, the truth is, it never exists. And by never I actually mean that. That’s because by the time reality is processed, it is selectively curated to form meaning, understanding, or judgment. With the passage of time, that selectivity is further narrowed to fit a narrative or worldview. By the time we’re conveying it, thinking about it, or judging it, IT no longer is the lived experience.
I frequently comment about the monotonous goodness of most of our lives and I often get quizzical looks. Think about it. Most next moments are both unimpressive and basically good. While you’ve been reading this, your heart has beaten several hundred times and, you didn’t do anything to conspire to make that happen. If you are reading this sentence, your optical nerve has already processed 5,140 characters and you didn’t care about most of them. While you were reading this, your computer didn’t blow up, your house didn’t burn down, you were not tortured, and you basically had it alright. What we remember, too often, is the punctuations in the monotony, and far too often, what focuses our obsession is that which is misfortune or challenging. But most of most of our lives is good.
What does this have to do with “truth”? Thanks for asking. By ignoring the monotonous goodness of life and narrating our lives through the punctuated drama of either ecstasy or suffering, we actually lie to ourselves. We’re so obsessed with being interesting (both for good or ill) that we curate a storyline that ignores most of our lives. When President Trump says that he “doesn’t recall” prostitutes, bribes, or Russian blackmail, he may be telling his version of his own selective recall. Evidence, schmevidence! We can make all the observations we want but if the selective curation of a narrative is absolute, then everything that doesn’t fit ceases to exist. Evangelical Christians swear they’re pro-life but applaud missile strikes on the infidel du jour. Capitalists want persistent economic growth but seek to maintain exclusionary rights and privileges to prevent others from growing. You name it, hypocrisy is rampant only when you don’t share a common definition of truth.
Which leads me to my year end gratitude. I am grateful this year for all those in my life who have turned truth into a verb. Being genuine. Being authentic. Living coherently with their values. People who don’t need to ‘tell the truth’ because their too busy living it. To those I’ve named and to the many who are reading this and knowing of our interactions that were characterized with these hallmarks of integrity, I honor you this year. Thank you and here’s to living true in 2020!
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