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David Hegg: Facing the truth deficit

Posted: September 16, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 16, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

Now that the national political conventions are over, it is apparent that our nation is facing a grave and imminent threat. It has been building incrementally and apparently we didn’t realize the gravity of the situation. But now it has come out of the shadows and struck us in the face. If we don’t do something radical to change the situation immediately, we may find ourselves unable to do so at all. We have been anesthetized to the danger, and it will take every drop of willpower we possess to turn the situation around.

Of course I am talking about the deficit, but not the one everyone else is talking about. While the financial difficulties posed by our national debt are many, even more disastrous is our national deficit when it comes to truth. It seems that our nation has lost both the meaning and the significance of truth. I am especially interested in the idea of telling the truth.

A new enterprise has come into being in the last decade called “fact checking.” After politicians open their mouths and speak, several organizations now get to work checking to see which of the facts are true and which are false. Stop and think about that for a moment. What does the existence of these “fact checking” companies say about our national conversation? When did it become acceptable to stand in front of the citizenry of our nation and say things that just aren’t true? And when did it become permissible to “spin” facts and figures so that the speaker, knowing what he is saying is not true, can hide behind “plausible deniability” since some slim part of what he is spouting is, in fact, true?

I greatly fear that we are becoming a nation that accepts untruths and half-truths as truths, as long as the one spouting it is on our team. But we seem blind to the erosion that this allows. We are eroding the definition of truth, replacing it with a mishmash of good intentions and tribalism. If our guy is actually trying to get good things done, then the fact that he spins facts, fabricates figures and shaves the truth is acceptable.

The problem is that this avalanche of duplicity, once begun, is almost impossible to stop. It flows into business dealings, instruction in our schools and the training of our kids. When truth becomes fluid and defined by good intentions rather than alignment with reality, the basic construct of trust among members of society is endangered.

The problem with truth is, as the saying goes, “truth hurts.” And a corresponding problem in our country is that we don’t want to hear the truth if it is going to hurt. We want our leaders to tell us things that make us feel good, and that won’t demand that we change. We want our leaders to tickle our ears, and they’re more than willing to do so in order to gain our vote. This symbiotic relationship seems good for us and for them, but in reality it is killing us. The truth does hurt, but only because pain is a sign that something is wrong. When your body wants to alert you to a problem, it sends pain as a signal. And when leaders want to alert those being led that something needs to be altered, they must tell the truth.

What we need is reality, not fantasy. What we must have is courage, not complacency. What it will take is character, perseverance, and mutual trust in our fellow-citizens. But what we need first are leaders willing to be true, tell the truth, and most of all, sacrifice their popularity in order to right the ship.

David W. Hegg is senior pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita.

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