“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” – Walden
There are so many moments in life where we are faced with a simple choice: do the easy thing, or push for the truth. When you interview for a job, for example, and get rejected, you can either (a) just pretend you know for sure why you didn’t get the job, or (b) reach out to the interviewer and ask them why they didn’t pick you. Option (a) is obviously the easier path, and the path most of us take most of the time. I’ll admit that option spares us some unpleasantness, but it also leaves us without even a glimpse at the truth.
Always seek the truth. Or, to put it another way: put truth over everything. Truth is the fuel that powers dharma, and there is no greater purpose than serving dharma. You should take this as an article of faith1 . . . but I recognize that faith is in short supply these days, so let me try to convince you the modern way: by reason.
I’ll start with a syllogism:
Premise 1: You are not as fragile as you think
Premise 2: You will survive the temporary pain that comes from truth
Premise 3: That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Conclusion: The truth will make you stronger
Pursuing a painful truth is how we grow as people. I would say it’s the only way we grow, but that’s not quite accurate — sometimes the truth just walks up and hits us on the head, no pursuing necessary:
What’s worse, the very act of lying corrupts the lier. It quite literally eats us up from the inside out. I would not be surprised if J.R.R. Tolkien was thinking about precisely this phenomenon when he dreamt up his infamous “One Ring.” It is telling that Sméagol, the poor soul who had the misfortune of first encountering the ring, was so corrupted by it that he followed it all the way down into the fires of Moria. A lot of rich, beautiful, successful people lie, but don’t let that fool you — beneath the veneer, they are shadows of themselves; sniveling, whimpering creatures who, in the end, find themselves grasping at air as they fall through the sky, desperately trying to avoid thinking about the ground below as it rushes up to meet them. That, my friends, is no way to live.
Let us not focus on ugliness. Let us focus on truth. It is, as they say, out there.
I would love to tell you about the truth, but I haven’t yet found it. I don’t know if anyone has ever really, truly found it. But I know it’s there. We can feel its warmth when we get closer. Like the sun on our face, we are drawn to it on a deep, primal level. Perhaps we love it because, like the sun, it is inexhaustible. Our lives, ever a struggle against finity, lack a certain wholeness that the truth tantalizing seems to enjoy. Our acts, written on the messy tapestry of human history, lack the order and decorum of the truth. Where we are incoherent, fragmentary, and chaotic, it is perfect, consistent, and exact.
Something else about the truth: sharing it is cathartic, and when done properly, extremely pro-social. Vulnerability is attractive, and opening up is endearing. One of the must wonderful, divine feelings out there is the feeling when two people discover they have both been harboring the same strange thought.
I want the truth. Or rather, to borrow a line or two from Why?,
I wanna speak at an intimate decibel
with the precision of an infinite decimal;
to listen up and send back a true echo
of something forever felt but never heard:
I want that sharpened steel of truth in every word.
But I don’t want to be alone in this. All too often, people are making the decision to be withdrawn rather than to speak out. In fact, those whom we need to speak most, our conscientious brethren, are those who are most at risk of overwithdrawal. We cannot live this way. Just as an individual cannot sustain himself on lies, neither can a society. We need that sharpened steel of truth in every word — because we face great challenges, and because we are finite, a tapestry ever at risk of unraveling. If we are ever to touch the infinite, it will have to be with the wings of Truth.