To Tell the Truth

“Brown’s Milk, Good as Most, Bettern’ Some.”

I have written many commercials and advertisements as a radio salesman and announcer, freelance writer, and communications director. I have won some awards. And I wish I had written that milk sign. It was nailed on a board at the entrance to a New England farm. I would buy milk from those people. I believe I would trust them with my wallet, credit card, even one of my children. Without formal training, or probably even thinking about it, those farm folks landed on the most powerful persuader in the world, the truth.

It seems no compliment to our culture that we have the common phrase that is the title of this offering. I don’t hear that one so much any more, but it’s still around along with its synonyms, “actually” “I’m telling you.” “I kid you not,” and “Read my lips.” If we have to announce that our next statement is true, does that make everything we say without such a declaration suspect?

Maybe so. Certainly we as a people have become so adept at spotting overstatement, hyperbole, slanted and biased messages in the media and elsewhere that we don’t even know we are doing it. Phrases like “New and Improved” “Better than ever”, “World’s most…” , “Free”, “and “If I am elected,” Those claims zip past our eyes and ears without pausing at our brains. We tune them out automatically.

Sometimes I think the truest word left in advertising, public relations, and much more in the media is “Unbelievable” as in “Unbelievable Value!” You’re right. I don’t believe it.

We are also wise to most of the “weasel words” such as “may,” (increase your gas mileage, improve your complexion etc.) the ambiguous awards and achievements, (voted #1, preferred by more…, 35 percent more effective…) And yet for all our cynical and street wise sophistication, this stuff must wear our resistance down a little or it wouldn’t still be circulating.

It isn’t all the communicator’s fault. Often we don’t want to hear the truth. Sometimes the truth hurts, and we don’t like to hurt. We prefer the sugar coated words of slick talkers like the man of whom it was said, “He was so smooth he could tell you to go to hell and make you look forward to the trip.”

The brilliant Hugh Nibley once titled an essay, “The Rise of Rhetoric, and the fall of Everything Else.” Rhetoric is an old fashioned word that means to speak persuasively. I think he is right. The persuaders seem to rule today. In the courtroom, on the political stump, in the media, those who can sway opinions rule. Even the stalwart Abraham Lincoln declared, “In America public opinion is everything.”

There’s nothing wrong with skill in persuasion if the content is true. How can we tell if it is?

I just finished one of the wisest books I have ever read. Like the New England farm fencepost sign the book is unpretentious, small, not bound in leather, no high powered endorsements from famous people on the back. It even has a few typos to attest that the message is more important than the packaging. Titled Think Independently, the book presents unvarnished, unapologetic straightforward truth about the most basic questions human beings have asked throughout history and still do. What is the purpose of life? Why do good people suffer and sinners prosper? What is not just good, but best?

The author Chauncey Riddle is a Doctor of Philosophy from Columbia, one of America’s prestige universities. Of his academic credentials, this philosopher told me once, “The only reason to get a doctorate is that some people won’t listen to anybody who doesn’t have some letters after his or her name.”

Of truth, Dr.Riddle references scripture, saying that truth is a knowledge of things as they were, are, and will be. That immediately places it beyond the reach of the most brilliant mind working solely with its own resources.

That makes sense to me. We don’t even have a full knowledge of things that are in our everyday world. Our senses can deceive us. Our Minds can play tricks on us. Our biases and prejudices filter the incoming data.

How much confidence then can we have in histories, archaeologies, geologies of the past? How reliable are prognoses of the future? Yet the experts speak with finality on these subjects as if they knew. I like the story of the museum guide telling the visitors, “That dinosaur is eight billion and 14 years old.”

A visitor said, “That’s incredible. How can they date it with such precision?”

The guide replied, “When I started working here they told me it was eight billion years old, and I’ve been here for fourteen years.”

Fortunately, so we are told, we don’t have to depend on authoritative pronouncements today because we have science. We can examine the research and test the experiments ourselves to assess the truth of the claims. This works great if you happen to have a hundred mile circular atom smasher or a billion dollar medical research lab.

Oh, and it also helps if you know how to operate that stuff. Science and authorities are valuable, yea verily (truly) essential in our complicated world and so we trust the experts and hope they are telling us the truth.

Dr. Riddle’s contention is that we have a conduit to pure truth from a source that never lies, and who is anxious to share the truth with us. In these mixed up times I am heartened to know that such a source and system exists. And actually, I kid you not, to tell you the truth, I’ve tried it, and it works.