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Necessary Untruths

We always say we want to know the truth.

When someone seems to hide it from us, that is, deceives us, we become careful and wary of them. One of the worst feelings to be sure is to know you have been tricked. More importantly, in the endeavours we commit ourselves to, may it be in business, the academe, in our personal relationships, we value and require honesty and sincerity. These values are the tenets which make any relationship possible: for if I cannot trust you, how can I deal with you or speak with you or even love you? So we want the truth. At all costs usually. The dishonest man, the thief, the deceiver all lose our trust and then are banished either by the force of law or the viciousness of spite.

I always ask my class this question: Behind the fear of being deceived and being taken advantage of; and more fundamental than the security which truth-telling requires--what is it really in the truth that we want? Or need? Or love? What about the truth, positively, do we require as human beings in a world of shadows, mistakes, and false appearances? Can one really say we cannot live without the truth?


I wondered if there were any untruths, or at least uncertainties, that we need in order to live a meaningful or, at least, a sane life. And there may be many illusions we keep, many question marks we hide, in order to live and walk the earth with sometimes a smile or a skip in our step.

The dream of a future, for one, is possibly an illusion.

You plan your life around those envisioned events such as getting a good job, finding someone to love, raising a family, enjoying life and then dying unafraid. So you study, you work hard, you save, you build relationships, you enjoy--all on the way to those goals, ambitions, and dreams. This way everything is neat, clean, and pretty because you think everything is calculable and foreseeable.

In a certain sense, everything really is: you see how other people around you had committed themselves to goals and were able to reach them. You had seen success and witnessed the happiness of those whose plans had come to fruition. All that hard work, that striving, do mean something: at least it means you get what you work for and are able to enjoy it.

But there are as many failures as successes, as many broken hearts as happily-ever-afters, as many losers as winners in the stakes of happiness.

All those plans, those dreams, those hopes, they can all become lost with a stroke of a pen or blown away by the winds of chance. Many souls may wander for a long time through the ruins of failure, and some may never find their way out, or themselves again. Now everything is lost. You stake your whole life, you wager all your chips for a few ideals and commitments that you chose freely--marrying this woman, pursuing this career or vocation, worshipping this God--and, as in all games, no one is guaranteed to win, no one is promised paradise. Remember: the house always wins.

So the one who lost out, if he still has time (oh time! that great thief!), wants to gather himself for another go--another woman, another pursuit, somethings else to believe in. He reasons that there was a mistake in his calculation, that he was careless, or that he was deceived. These are good reasons for someone who fails honestly and sincerely. You can no longer blame the stars and the gods nowadays. So you blame yourself.

But the real culprit here, the real thief, was the idea that the future could in the first place be foreseen. That one just needs to dream it and plan it, carry that plan out, and as if automatically (as if you deserve anything), you just cash in and reap the winnings.

For the most part of the history of man--that is, before modernity along with its sciences--people had no notion of a future. A fisherman of old would find it counterintuitive to think about the catch he'll make tomorrow or next week. What he has before him is the need to feed himself and his children who are hungry today. 

The idea of saving for a future (investments, insurance, etc.) is also a modern invention. Because calamities, droughts, sickness and plagues could easily take a life any day, it was implausible to think you'd live up to 70 or 80. Knowing life was short also made life economical: no need for retirement plans here.

But with everything that medicine and the sciences have afforded us through the past few centuries, we think we are better equipped with managing a future. Maybe we are. Maybe most do realize the plans they made. But this is not a numbers game. Every plan and hope is vulnerable, is weak, and susceptible to the vicissitudes of life and to human frailty. We are still what we are, dwellers of a world yet understood, souls with no clue as to what life is for. Yet we hide these questions, we suppress these fundamental truths to human existence, and cover them up by familiarity, management, and the illusions of a future. Seems simpler that way.

You only have to ask yourself how certain you are about the future that you strive for to know that there are uncertainties that should keep you awake at night.


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