“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain
Truth has often been a long time sufferer. Under dictatorships the comedians, journalists, artists, and educators, who are often some of the most poignant truth tellers, are first to disappear from the scene (along with whatever group of people is being scapegoated). We know that truth is often at stake in our personal lives as we do mental gymnastics to avoid or enhance certain details about ourselves. Partial truths are often advantageous.
Yet, when Patanjali reveals the 2nd restraint, he is clear. He does not say “non-lying”, he says “truthfulness”, a direct mandate to stop at nothing short of the full truth. I call this a “go all the way” yama. What is the difference between non-lying and truthfulness? This is an interesting question among many in a world where truth has become dangerously irrelevant.
“The ultimate question for a responsible man [sic] to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906 in Germany. He possessed a great intellectual capacity and faced a promising academic career as a Lutheran theologian that was abruptly altered when Hitler ascended to power on January 30, 1933. From the start, Bonhoeffer was an outspoken critic of the Nazi regime, yet he stood firm in his pacifist views.
All of this began to change as Bonhoeffer learned the full scale of atrocities being committed in his homeland. In what must have been an agonizing conversation with morality and ethical choices, this pacifist began to turn his attention toward stopping Hitler and eventually joined in an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life. He was imprisoned and ultimately hanged for this failed attempt.
There is a danger to these times we live in, and that is the ease with which we can let ourselves off the hook. Violence is in its glory, and we, by comparison, can look pretty good. It’s the ole’ good apples, bad apples thing….we certainly don’t belong in the bad apple basket so we must belong in the good one.
But in the essence of our hearts and minds, there is only one basket, the human basket, and it is a mixed bag. Now, more than ever we are called to scrutinize the deep corners of our being for signs of our own moral weaknesses.
In my growing up years, truth was a highly valued commodity. I remember being punished more than once by a parent or a teacher for attempting to alter or bypass this sacred principle. I soon learned that although telling the truth could be painful, not telling the truth was painful also.
In this new “post-truth” era, things are different. Truth is no longer valued, in fact it has become inconvenient, irrelevant, and downright bothersome. It is now unfashionable to entertain the complexity of things or to stick with the facts. We have become prisoners to the ease of a quick answer and the thrill of being emotionally charged. Lies parade as truth and we bow in worship.
It’s over. In the United States we have a new president-elect.
I have close family who are elated at the results, hopeful for the next 4 years, and sleeping better at night now that Trump has been elected. I, however, feel the opposite. I see that hatred has been given a prominent place at the table; hunting season has opened on women, the earth, people of color, and non-Christians; and little girls have been left to wonder about their value. For me, walls are not the answer, the religious right is not the voice of morality, and the unwillingness to hold the common good is suicide.
In the US, we are nearing Election Day 2016. The events leading up to this day have been marked with extreme polarization and civic insanity. Far from insignificant, the outcome of this upcoming collective decision promises to have far-reaching implications not only for the United States but for the planet and all its inhabitants. This is a big day and a big vote that none of us can afford to take lightly.
Various comedians have made valiant attempts to find humor, irrationality, and downright bizarreness in the events leading up to this election. Talented political analysts have raised their voices, pointing out insights and implications that may have escaped our consideration. And many of us find ourselves taking refuge in the company of like-minded people where our confoundment and concern can be shared.
As I teach on yoga’s ethical system at various studios around the country, I am invariably asked about a real life situation and the pressing question of what to do. Although the situation is always unique, the dilemma has a constant theme: how to be both non-violent and truthful in that particular situation. When I reply, “What a great question; keep asking it,” silence takes over the room. The disappointment in my “non-answer” is palpable.
I am becoming familiar with how much we love answers to the lived experience of our complex relationships. I hear it from others; I know it all too well in myself. It seems like a pervasive inner plea to make life easier by being told what the “right” thing is. But the ready-made solution that answers give tends to cheat us by preventing a deeper dialogue with the complexities these experiences bring us.
Last month Dad turned 90 years old. I, along with my 2 brothers and our families gathered in Tulsa to celebrate. We laughed a lot and for the most part avoided touchy subjects. But mostly we told stories. They were stories packed with memories, the kind that sustain life by giving it roots and some sense of belonging.
In my mind I found myself moving through the details of my life with this man, holding each event up as if through a microscope to clearly examine what has so significantly shaped me. I was looking for a theme that could hold all the experiences. And then it became clear: I had learned about choices.
You see, my dad should have died in his mid 40’s when he had a massive heart attack while away on a business trip, where, instead of coming home, he spent a month hovering between life and death in a distant hospital. Dad was a driven man with one goal, to rise far above his childhood depression memories and give his family what he never had.