Welcome to Following the Whispers blog

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit. Hope you enjoy your stay. I blog here whenever I feel the need. This blog was created at the time my memoir came out, in February, 2009. Its motto was: creating a life of inner peace and self-acceptance from the depths of despair. Now, my focus is sharing this journey we call life.

“Only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth, and that is not speaking it.” Naomi Wolf

“We are called human beings, not human doings.” Wes Nisker, Buddhist teacher

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs…(And) if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” Theodore Roosevelt

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Our Stories and Truth

Our Stories and Truth
By Gene Bodzin

We tried to get our telephone moved over to a new company on September 1, but the new company wouldn’t hook up our voice mail or let us dial long distance. We called them every day last week to see what the trouble was. This morning, after a holiday weekend, they finally called to tell us that our troubles were over.

I don’t think anybody at the phone company really believed that getting our phone hooked up was the end of our troubles. Nobody there would have thought they were exaggerating, and we didn’t treat their message as comfort from a cosmic voice, but they chose to translate “We claim to have repaired the problem you have had for the past week” as “Your troubles are over.”

Our lives are full of lies and half-truths, and we don’t think about most of them. Our lives are full of stories as well, about our family, our country, our religion. We go through life listening to stories and making up stories—and we don’t always think about how true they are.

The importance of a story cannot always be related to whether it is true or not. People who believe in the truth of the Bible are unlikely to lose their faith in revelation when they hear that the story of Noah’s flood was told in the Epic of Gilgamesh long before Sinai, and they will not stop believing in a God who created the earth when they see dinosaur fossils. I don’t know what would destroy people’s belief in miracles.

The stories of our families and communities can help us make sense of the past, but our hunger for truth may be no more than our way of trying to make sense of life. Even as individuals, when we try to recapture the past, we think our life stories are truth. But how easy is it to recapture the actual words we heard as children? We certainly cannot verify the words we think we remember.

Consider how hard it is to get at the truth. We know that details change in the retelling of a story until the original can hardly be recognized; we have heard of eyewitnesses falsely identifying criminals, sometimes with disastrous consequences; and our research has shown that our memories as individuals are altered to conform to our other beliefs about the past.

About a century ago, a philosopher named Hans Vaihinger wrote an influential work in which he observed that we accept fictions and falsehoods because they are often the only way that we can make sense of an irrational world. He called this the philosophy of as-if, and he gave dozens of practical examples. We conduct ourselves as if there were a God; we deal with other people as if we could be certain of our ethical principles; we carry out scientific inquiry as if invisible particles of matter exist.

Many stories continue to influence millions of people because they give life meaning. That quality sometimes trumps anybody’s quest for historical and verifiable truth.

I think a lot about the character on M.A.S.H. who was worried about being brainwashed until he realized that nobody could get the truth out of him because he didn't know what the truth was. Maybe we should let go as well.

Gene Bodzin

1 comment:

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Very thought-provoking post, Gene. And there are some truths that can't be proven or disproved (some scientific theories on the universe, or religious faith). Thanks for giving me something to mull over.

Mystery Writing is Murder