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Here’s My Truth

5870-i-feel-safe-to-speak-and-live-my-truthI know a guy who wakes up in the night and scrawls candidates for his WBM list. These things don’t necessarily make the cut the next morning. They have to be scrawled night after night, or linger in his head through the day, and eventually they’re added. WBM stands for What’s Bugging Me. If you don’t write “Susy shoes front hall” more than once or twice, Susy’s habit of leaving her galoshes in the middle of the hallway doesn’t really bug you, and you should get over it.

My truth has been making it onto my WBM list lately. Marriage counselors prescribe it as an empowering way to speak one’s mind. Self-published memoirs come out with titles like Living My Truth. Blogs attempt to Write My Truth or Own My Truth. Even a reality show and a Japanese song purport to express someone or other’s truth.

Okay. I get it. My truth is a fad. But where does it come from, and why does it bother me?

My truth and your truth are clearly on the rise, though my truth hasn’t come near the heights of its use in 1810. That era saw much publication of two kinds of books: Christian texts and compilations or reprints of dramatic works. In the first category, my truth has basically one of two senses: either the Lord is speaking, in which case presumably no daylight exists between His truth and the truth; or some flawed human is claiming ownership of his truth as a way of pledging fealty to Christian belief.

In the dramatic works, my truth is used in the same way as my troth. Aha. Troth, of course, generally means a sort of pledge to keep one’s word, and in fact, the original definition of truth, going back to the first millennium, was that of fidelity. The sense I consider to be the main idea of truth, “conformity with fact, agreement with reality,” doesn’t appear until late in the 16th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

So I think what’s bothering me is that a sense exists for my truth, and it rubs elbows with the faddish expression, but the difference between them matters. Living My Truth could mean, for instance, living in such a way as to be faithful — but to what? To oneself, it seems. You be you. The solipsism of this configuration eviscerates what I think of as the archaic notion, in which the speaker is true to something (God, a spouse, a promise) outside his or her own personality. Speaking my truth endorses the relative nature of truth in its conformity-with-fact sense, but we undergraduate-college professors have seen all too clearly where such relativism can lead. To wit:

Undergrad:  Random-number generators became less random after 9/11 because that trauma shook the consciousness of the world.

Prof: There’s no evidence whatever that random-number generators are any less random than they were before.

Undergrad: That’s my truth. I saw it in Tom Shadyac’s movie.

Owning My Truth seems to have several meanings, depending on who employs the phrase. It could mean owning up to one’s own state of mind or human condition. Shakespeare advised something of this kind in to thine own self be true, but his was a warning against self-deception, not advice to consider one’s state of mind particularly objective or self-justifying. Owning my Truth could also mean sticking by my opinion or point of view (per the dialogue above) regardless of factual evidence.  That, to me, is actually a dangerous iteration of the phrase, particularly when it’s employed by young people. Standing up for one’s beliefs, speaking truth to power, and so on has great merit, especially as it joins the believer or truth-speaker with others who might take equally strong stands. Owning something you call truth, when truth has shrunk to the size of private, personal purview, divides and splinters us from one another.

I guess, in the end, that’s what’s bugging me.

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