Truth is a Believable Story

I grew up believing that facts, like research, numbers and percentages, told the truth. I believed in objective, verifiable truth, based on fact. I distinguished that from mystical religious truth, based on faith.

I was a mainstream journalist for almost 10 years in the 1970s. Every professional journalist believed in objective verifiable truth based on fact. That was the goal of reporting. We separated subjective opinion from objective truth. Truth was hard to find, yes. It often had to be dug up and uncovered. But it was there.

Now I know better.

Truth is not research and data. Although my generation grew up believing hard numbers were truth, it just isn’t so.  Nowadays there is data to prove anything, regardless of how absurd. And people routinely hide their opinions as data. Eggs are good? There’s data to prove it. No, eggs are bad? There’s data to prove that too. The same for coffee, sugar, exercise, structure, discipline, whatever.  The truth is not in the data.

Truth is not just a believable lie, either. It’s more like a matter of angles and reflections and angles of light, like a gas, not a solid. It’s something like what William Blake implied about  300 years ago, in Proverbs of Hell:

Every thing possible to be believ’d is an image of truth.

Truth is a believable story. And much of human truth is better told in stories than a facts, and much less numbers.

And in business, Seth Godin says marketing is stories. I say planning is stories. Truth isn’t what the research says, or the focus group, or the latest survey.

Take a step back from it and ask, always: Does this make sense? Is this credible?

Truth as told in stories is still truth. I love how Harvey Cox says truth is in stories. This is from his book When Jesus Came to Harvard:

All human beings have an innate need to hear and tell stories and to have a story to live by…religion, whatever else it has done, has provided one of the main ways of meeting this abiding need.

I don’t mean it as disrespectful to see the “story” to religious doctrine. On the contrary: The right stories, real stories, the best stories communicate truth better than so-called facts. And it’s almost a proof of God how themes and meanings overlaps between the different stories of the different religions. Maybe there is a good gene, in our species DNA. And the stories are an expression of how humans all struggle to understand God, or creation, or whatever that immensity is, in their own way. With their own background and culture.

My summary: truth is a believable story.


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