Don’t speak “your truth”

Don’t speak “your truth”

A spirited defense of the word “The”

Have you ever heard a phrase that seemed innocuous, until it didn’t?

Me too.

Like many non-sexual predators, I’ve been cheering as the #Metoo movement gained momentum in the recent months.

And I’ve been grieving as I’ve heard the stories of real-life harassment, sexual assault, and gender discrimination–some from women I know personally.

Time is up.

And with two young daughters, I hope the movement does some good.

But that doesn’t change the curmudgeonly frustration I’ve felt as a particular phrase has emerged as the “solution” to our #Metoo moment.

SPEAK YOUR TRUTH

What’s needed, we are told, is for women to speak “their truth” about such matters.  Because only when you speak “your truth” will society begin to change.

We heard it yet again, from Oprah, at the Golden Globes:

What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.

Then again, just seconds later:

Their time is up. And I just hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth, like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years, and even now tormented, goes marching on.

Oddly, we heard it also from Senator Al Franken, in his farewell address to the U.S. Senate.

While denying that he had done “anything” that would warrant dismissal, Franken said that he was resigning, in part,

Because all women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously.

Huh?

In other words, “their truth” is one thing, “my truth” is quite another. But who am I to question their experiences?

THE DEFINITE ARTIC(O)DECTOMY

The oddity here is how “truth” seems to have been permanently detached from its definite article.

It’s as if the concept has undergone a surgical procedure to remove the “the”—perhaps because it posed a previously unknown health risk.

It is no longer “the” truth, but rather her truth, my truth, their experience—all quite valuable, even if mutually contradictory.

But why talk like this?

AN OBJECTION

At this point, some will claim that I am making too much of mere semantic differences.

Perhaps when Oprah says “speak your truth” she simply means to “tell your story.”  After all, she spoke also of “the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice.”

What’s more, no wise person would want to confuse their perspective on reality with an infallible and absolutist “God’s-eye view.”  Last month I forgot my own address. So to say that truth exists is not to say that I always know it.

Fair enough.

(For the record, I have no beef with Oprah. The speech was moving; she seems nice; and I hear her hugs cure cancer.)

But I still think this “your truth” way of speaking is, like, stupid.

ASK RECY TAYLOR

After all, If you had you asked Recy Taylor what happened to her in 1944, my guess is that she would have said nothing of “her truth.”

97-year-old women have no time for postmodern perspectivalism.

They’re about to die.

Recy would have simply told “the truth” – because it really happened.  As Oprah noted, she was raped and left for dead by six armed white men while walking home from church.  The men were never punished.

That’s the truth.

And Recy would never sequester such events merely to the murky realm of her “experience.”

They happened.

So there’s no need to neuter facts by adding nonsense qualifiers (i.e., “my” and “their”).

WHY IT MATTERS

The subtle move to “my truth” also has real dangers.

The fallout from Nietzsche’s Will to Power comes to mind here:

there are many sorts of “truths,” and consequently there is no truth.

In this case, “my truth” does not necessarily depend on corresponding evidence to elicit the destruction of another person.

These days, the allegation alone may be enough to mobilize the mob.

One wonders, after all, how many of those men and women wearing black and clapping feverishly were actually complicit in the decades-spanning Weinstein cover-up?  It’s said that after the Terror of the French Revolution, it was Robespierre’s enablers who were quickest to renounce him as a demon. Did they wear black?

ON HUNTING WARLOCKS

On the perils of the #Metoo moment , Claire Berlinski worries that the movement may have crossed a line and “morphed into a moral panic that poses as much danger to women as it does to men” (see here: “The Warlock Hunt“).

While championing the need to prosecute abusers and believe victims, she also issues a stern warning:

Revolutions against real injustice have a tendency […] to descend into paroxysms of vengeance that descend upon guilty and innocent alike. We’re getting too close. Hysteria is in the air. The over-broad definition of “sexual harassment” is a well-known warning sign. The over-broad language of the Law of Suspects portended the descent of the French Revolution into the Terror. This revolution risks going the way revolutions so often do, and the consequences will not just be awful for men. They will be awful for women.

Specifically, Berlinski worries that women will be passed over even more for hiring as corporate bean-counters fear the liability of accusations that may require no substantiation.

After all, “your truth” is true, and “all experiences must be taken seriously.”

As Berlinski asks:

Do you think only the men who have done something truly foul are at risk? Don’t kid yourself. Once this starts, it doesn’t stop. The Perp Walk awaits us all.

We should certainly realize by now that a moral panic mixed with an internet mob is a menace. When the mob descends on a target of prominence, it’s as good as a death sentence, socially and professionally. […] “Show me the man, and I’ll show you the crime.”

I hope that’s an exaggeration.

CONCLUSION

Regardless, my argument is far narrower than Ms. Berlinski’s.

My hope is merely that we might champion both the cause of women (#Metoo) and the reality that “your truth” is only valuable insofar as it corresponds to “the truth.”

Don’t speak “your truth,” be truthful—and let the chips fall where they may.

My three words for 2018

My three words for 2018

Since it was New Year’s Eve last night, Brianna and I were up LATE.

Ten o’clock baby!

Just like Charlie Sheen.

Even so, I managed to slip away this morning to scratch out some hopes for the new year.

“Pick a word.”

That was the advice I got recently on how to structure an alternative to New Year’s “resolutions.” But since I preach, I somehow ended up with three words (is that better than three points?)—each connecting with a different area of my day-to-day existence: (1) marriage, (2) kids, and (3) teaching.

Here they are:

  1. Gifts (marriage)

As Brianna knows, I am terrible at presents.

It’s not my (*promised I would never blog this phrase…) “love language.”

In fact, I usually prefer that people give me an Amazon gift card for Christmas–like the magi should have done.

Even so, I’m aspiring this year to become a more frequent gift-giver, and specifically as a husband.

After all, Brianna deserves more than that just for putting up with me.

  1. Softer (kids)

I’m not typically a “yeller”—but having four kids under the age of seven could turn even Mother Theresa into parental parody of Bobby Knight (sans chair-chucking, of course).

That said, I want to work, this year, on disciplining the little ones without raising my voice so quickly.

Hence: “softer.”

Of course, some occasions almost require a good “bellow” if only to be heard above the scrum.  Still, I’ve been distressed to notice how my own propensity to raise my voice unnecessarily has “caught on” with my kids—and they don’t need any help in that department.

  1. Monastic (teaching)

Admittedly, few words may seem less “evangelical” than this one.

To be “monastic” evokes images of cloistered celibates in brown cassocks, chanting Gregorian-ly.

But that’s not what I mean (see points 1 and 2 regarding celibacy).

By monastic, I mean the need to reconnect my work to the embodied practices of prayer and worship. Ora et labora.

In doing some reading this Christmas break (James K. A. Smith specifically), I’ve been convinced that Christian higher education has often failed in this regard.

In many cases, the alternative has been a kind of slightly altered Cartesianism that replaces Cogito ergo sum with Credo ergo sum (I believe therefore I am).

But even demons believe.

In my own teaching, I sense that “information” has sometimes replaced “formation.” And in other instances, a posture of prayerful-worshipful study has been supplanted by a posture of detached analysis (or worse).

To be clear, I have no plans to jettison exams, critique, or careful analysis.  Still I do want to shift the posture of my classes just a bit in reconnecting work to prayer and worship.

CONCLUSION

I may fail terribly at all this.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

But as I said yesterday in a sermon, one thing I respect about still having some sort of New Year’s “word” or “resolution”—is that it shows you haven’t entirely given up on the idea that change is possible.

The status quo is not eternal.

The Spirit still broods and habits can evolve, if only through grace-driven effort.

So what about you?

Do you have a word (or words) for 2018?