Truth. Whenever I hear that word, I can't help but think of Jack Nicholson's iconic line in A Few Good Men: "You can't handle the truth!" I also think of a book I read a while ago (the name escapes me - oh boy, does that mean I'm getting to that age when that starts happening? Reserve my room at Shady Acres!). Anyhow, it was by a writer for New Yorker magazine (I think), and it chronicled his attempt to live strictly and literally according to the Old Testament for one year. In one hysterical scene, he and his wife are at a restaurant when an old friend from his wife's past comes over to say hi. She suggests that they plan a get-together sometime, to which the writer, abiding by the Bible's code of honesty, blurts out something along the lines of, "No thanks, we already have enough friends." Needless to say, his truthfulness wasn't a huge hit with the woman (or with his wife).
I think Nicholson's character nailed it when he spewed his famous line. Much of the time, we can't handle the truth. We tell ourselves one thing when deep down we know something else. We hide the truth to protect ourselves or others. I mean, it's probably not a good idea or helpful for job security to tell your boss or coworkers all the things you can't stand about your place of employment. How many men throughout history have fallen into the trap of giving their honest opinion about a wife or girlfriend's new outfit? Television sitcoms have made fortunes on that kind of stuff! Is it really a good idea to tell some big-mouthed relative what you really think of them? Sometimes, the truth can be hurtful to others. Sometimes it's necessary, but it's important to have the ability to discern when that's the case, or when it's just going to cause needless hurt or anger.
A lead character in the New Testament asked, "What is truth?" Good question. Political ideologies claim to possess the pathway to an ideal society based on what they believe to be true about that particular society. Here in the United States (and probably many other countries), those who passionately support a certain political party will claim that their office holders and candidates speak the truth, while their opponents are mistaken and/or less than truthful.
The claim of possession of the truth really ramps up when you get into religion. For example, in Christianity alone, you'll find the Protestant denominations and believers who claim that the Bible is the 100% inspired Word of God, and that eternal salvation can only be obtained through the grace of God and an acceptance of Jesus as one's Lord and Savior. Then there's the Catholic Church, which claims that it's the true church established by Jesus Christ, and salvation requires both grace and good works, as well as weekly attendance at Mass, reception of the Eucharist and other Sacraments such as Reconciliation, etc., and adherence to church doctrine and teachings as taught in the Catechism. And that's just Christianity. There's also so many other religions and spiritual traditions that all claim to be the pathway to truth.
The discussion of truth doesn't end at politics and religion. In philosophy, there have been many thinkers who support the notion of the existence of Natural Law - the idea that certain rights are inherent to all sentient beings, and that certain principles exist in the universe that are constant through the ages. I personally tend to believe more in the Natural Law principle on the basis that something that is wrong, such as murder, rape, or theft, is wrong regardless of the time or place. On the contrary, there have been philosophers who have proposed the idea that truth and morality are flexible, dependent on the circumstances of the time and situation. This has been defined as moral relativism.
There's also thinkers and researchers out on the "fringes" who believe that nothing is what we think it is. They include those who believe in extra-terrestrial involvement in human creation and in the world today, those who believe that our five sense consciousness limits us from seeing the reality of existence and creation, those who believe that our world is under the control of some dark spiritual or otherworldly force, and many others who claim that truth and reality is something entirely different than what we're taught.
For most people, this is way too much to think about, especially considering how much time and energy is spent just working day to day to put food on the table, taking care of homes and families, and all the other never-ending responsibilities and tasks of life. Even for those who wish to explore these topics, one would need twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week for multiple lifetimes to begin to make a dent in all the information that's been compiled throughout history.
It's not for everyone. My wife, Christina, while respectful of my passion for contemplating these topics, is one who would rather focus on the "here and now" of everyday life (which, interestingly, focusing on the here and now is a huge subject in a lot of spiritual topics I've explored). She points out how getting too caught up in seeking deeper answers could lead one into an endless search, akin to a cat chasing its tail, and could maybe lead to unwanted side effects like frustration or depression.
But just because seeking truth is such a daunting task, does that mean we say "forget it" if we truly wish to explore? I don't think so. But I happen to be one of those people that has a passionate interest in exploring. I've often compared everyday life to being in a shop and looking at all the merchandise that's in the glass cases and on the shelves. Truth-seeking, in this analogy, is like going up to the shop owner and saying "that's very nice... now show me the real good stuff you keep in the back room..."
But then I wonder... was Nicholson onto something? If I happen to find the truth, could I handle it? Is the truth deep inside all of us? Maybe it's similar to how I've often imagined God - simultaneously more complex and more simple than we could ever imagine.