Over 2500 years ago the Achaemind Persians were a dominant up and coming force in the Ancient World. Their children were trained to hold three virtues above all others; horse riding, bowmanship and most important of all, to tell the truth.
Truth was venerated above all other virtues; so much so that when the Achaemind-Persian King, Cyrus The Great, found himself negotiating with the Ionian Greeks, he stated that he found them to be totally dishonourable on account of them having Agora’s in their Cities. An Agora was simply a gathering place or assembly, however Cyrus saw them as a designated place where politicians or tradesmen lied and exaggerated the truth; something he saw as abhorrent.
Treating truth as the core and primary value of a society is something I admire greatly. Alas, the contemporary world has not remembered the values espoused by Cyrus The Great; in fact it seems to have rejected them completely.
The forum through which most daily communication between friends and acquaintances are held, social media, encourages exaggerations at an epidemic level. On these platforms, every daily action is staged rather than enjoyed; the perfect picture (taken 30 times through an Instagram filter), a picture of a coffee beautifully crafted (but probably cold by the time to photo process is over), the concert where attendees don’t bother to watch but instead film the moment through their camera in order to “show off” their experience to others online rather than simply enjoying the performance. Wherever you look, people are exaggerating all aspects of their lives at the expense of the truth. Alas it is not only social media that is to blame; entertainment also has to accept some responsibility for this contemporary cultural truth vacuum. Entertainment is and has traditionally been a place for fiction and legitimate exaggeration, however we are now constantly subjected to TV shows that claim to be “reality”despite being as close to reality as Middle Earth or the idea that cigarettes are good for you.
This cultural projection of falsehoods under the banner of “truth” is causing enormous unhappiness. It is making people compare their own lot in life to images and expectations that are not real and are instead staged managed to be as glamorous and over the top as possible. This is bad for the soul and plays on dangerous emotions such as envy. People often comment, when travelling to less developed countries, how surprisingly happy people are despite their poverty; one clear reason for this is that despite their lot in life they are not constantly subjected to images of people living better and more luxurious lives than themselves. In contrast, people in wealthy countries often forget to look at what they have and instead focus on what they should or deserve to have; a state of affairs created by the truth not being an integral part of life. The truth is that life is tough, it is not a collection of idyllic holiday pictures but instead a joyous collage of the good, the bad and the ugly. Hiding from this truth is not only weak but dangerous and leads to a sense of victimhood and a complete lack of personal responsibility and perhaps most significantly unhappiness.
It is not only through a cultural lens that truth is lacking in modern life; unfortunately it is a state of affairs that has seeped into every facet of society. From politics to parenting; the concern of causing offence to people supersedes the need to tell the truth on almost every occasion and on almost every occasion the attempt to hide the truth fails. Children being given "Participation Awards" eventually learn that some people win and some people lose, children not suited to going to University are told that they should strive to go to University and eventually realise (when saddled with debt) that they would have been better off going straight into the workforce and perhaps worst of all, children with no talent for singing are not told that truth by their parents and end up embarrassing themselves in the first round of X Factor. As a parent, I have started to make a conscious effort to laud truth and encourage my children to see it as principle virtue that must be respected rather than an assumed virtue that can be negotiated. Through truth, I believe that my children will be able to tackle the slings and arrows that life will throw at them and be at peace with themselves and those around them. As the great Billy Joel once said:
Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you.