Truth: The Foundation of Governance

An article based on the presentation given by W. Bruce Lee at the Promise Governance Institute Conference in Covina, CA on October 8th, 2020.

Truth!  Wow, what a novel idea in today’s world!  And according to the recent song, “Truth be Told” by Matthew West, “Truth be told, the truth is rarely told!”

With instant communication, misinformation, hundreds of opinions bidding for our attention, where does truth come in the equation?  We hear tidbits of truth in 280 character tweets, snippets of news coverage, and all this from a multitude of new pundits on our preferred news channels.  And Google, so easy, so accessible, so searchable, and so instantaneous – that’s much easier and faster than searching for truth!  After all, if it’s listed in Wikipedia, it must be accurate … isn’t it??

And, given that fact that most people would prefer to have “truth” provided to them in easy to consume, prepackaged servings, the search for truth is not always popular.  After all, “truth” in this prepackaged form is usually more palatable and faster to obtain than the actual truth.  Yet, just as fast food is not as likely to truly nourish our bodies as a home-cooked meal; prepackaged truth is not as likely to nourish our minds as truth that is arrived at through due diligence and intelligent, analytical thought.  For as Henry Ford once observed, “Thinking is hard work.  That may be the reason so few engage in it.”  (The human brain is a bit lazy.)

Yet, while we live in a world that is flooded with information, truth itself remains as elusive and novel as ever.  This might seem counterintuitive, but unfortunately facts don’t speak for themselves.  Before we can arrive at the truth of any given situation, we must first take the information received and verify what is factual–a difficult task in and of itself.  From there we must organize those facts in a meaningful way and then interpret their relevance to the problem at hand.  All of this, however, can take a lot of time and energy. 

So, in a time of unprecedented access to information — albeit information that is a mixed bag of facts, half-truths, partial truths, truths that exist only in the eye of the beholder, and outright lies — where are we to turn?  What are we to think?  It is more important than ever that we commit ourselves to the diligent pursuit of truth.  

Marty Hooper, a pastor friend, came to me years ago, and said, “Bruce, you have the gift of prophecy!”  “What?  What do you mean?” I replied.  “Do you think I can predict when a disaster may occur?”

“Oh, no,” he said, “but you have the desire and drive to declare truth.”  I had never thought about that, but it is interesting how other people can see things in you that you do not understand yourself.  And my friend was correct — understanding what is true and declaring it is a major driver or motivation in my life.  But why am I so excited about truth?

Given that being focused on truth is a lot of work and people often do not like you when you speak the truth, there are still four reasons why I am passionate about truth.  

First, I would argue that the most important reason for this commitment is that truth is at the very core of the Holy Scriptures.  According to John 1:17, “for the law was given through Moses, grace and truth comes through Jesus Christ!”  And not surprisingly, when we honor the scriptures, we reap blessings in our lives.  And in the case of governance, this commitment to truth also produces good fruit.  Truth is the absolute foundation of good governance.  This axiom is supported by scripture and by the fruit that truth produces, including real results, peaceful reconciliation, and effective leadership.

Second, truth produces good results!  When people or governments operate with truth as their foundation, they get better and lasting results.  Here I am reminded of the parable of the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish man who built his house on the sand (Matthew 7:24-27).  When government leaders craft policies and make decisions based on truth, those decisions will be effective in the face of adversity.  By contrast, when politicians base their policies on faulty information or political preferences, the very foundation of their actions is like sand.  When put to the test, such policies will fail at best and cause lasting damage at worst.

Truth provides a foundation in that it provides:

Guidance to know what to do in a situation;

Wisdom to know the best way to go;

Strength to enable us;

Courage to motivate us; and 

Faith to help us act on the truth!

While building policies and implementing our actions based on truth seems like an obvious place to start, it can be surprisingly difficult to get a group of leaders to agree on what foundation to build upon.  A major reason for this is that humans have a remarkable ability to hide from the truth.  We do this almost unconsciously.  We hide when confronted with facts that are inconvenient or challenge our dominant beliefs, we hide when the truth has a cost, and we hide when the truth does not align with the popular opinion of the day.

The perfect illustration of this human tendency to hide from truth presented itself when a delightful, but rather overweight neighbor unexpectedly dropped by my home one day.  As I answered the door I was met, to my great surprise, by a now much slimmer woman!  She could see my surprise, and I told her that she looked great!  I did not want to embarrass or inquire as to how she had lost so much weight so quickly, though I suspected some type of surgery.  Not knowing exactly what to say, I commented that I track my daily calorie intake with an app on my smartphone … to which she replied, “Oh, you’re one of those!”  I was confused, what did she mean?  She then went on to explain, “You are one of those who like to know the facts.”  As I listened with great fascination, she explained how she avoided knowing the facts.  She said she had trained her young children to go ahead of her in department stores to alert her if there were any mirrors ahead so she did not have to look at herself.  She continued, “My daughter would call out, ‘mirror on the left’, and I would go right.  Or, my son would shout, ‘mirror on the right’, and I would go to the left.”  We spoke for several minutes but she knew she had been hiding from the truth – perhaps because it made her feel uncomfortable.  I thought to myself how exhausting it might be to live that way.

I saw this same ability to hide from truth in full effect in a different context a few years ago.  I have a rather socially liberal colleague in the Washington, DC area whose views I truly wanted to understand.  In an attempt to do so, I asked my friend if he would be willing to read a book together as an opportunity to concurrently discuss some of the philosophical and political views within it.  I suggested a particular book that I knew had many intriguing illustrations and conversation starters.  I did not personally fully agree or disagree with all of the book’s content, but thought it would be a great jumping off point for discussions on worldviews.

My friend agreed that this would be a useful exercise and I promised to bring him a copy of the book when I next saw him.  However, on my next visit when I handed him the book, he immediately opened it, flipped to a random page about two-thirds of the way into the book, read three to four sentences, and quickly shut the book with a thud.  He then declared, “I don’t agree with this paragraph” and refused to read anything else in the book.  Even after I explained that I did not agree with the entirety of the text, and that we mutually agreed to read a book that would prompt good discussions between us, he still declined.  I was stunned.

Evidently discussing ideas; learning from each other; and seeking truth together might have disturbed him.  It might be inconvenient.  It is encounters like this that can discourage us from having conversations with people of different perspectives.  However, the danger in that is we may become more and more polarized in our own echo chambers.  It then becomes increasingly difficult to reach useful compromises.  I believe, nonetheless, that it is possible to reach compromises without compromising the truth.

And this brings me to the third reason why I get so excited about truth.  Truth is a better goal than for what most people seek!

What do many or most people want?  It has been my observation that it is often some form of power.  It may be economic power, or political power, or social power – such as fame, acceptance, prestige or the like!  The tricky thing about power though is that it often becomes a zero sum game, a competition for who can get the most of it.  As I note in my document, “The Work of W. Bruce Lee”:

In our world of quiet suffering, the powerful have abused the powerless.  Overall, our world has been filled with conquest and oppression – the history of one powerful man taking away from another powerful man.  Public and private institutions have failed; economic systems or experiments have been less than fruitful; social systems falter, families are torn apart, and even religion has been disappointing.

And, the quest for power divides us!  However, when we replace the quest for power with the quest of truth, we find reconciliation and reduced conflict.  A fruit of pursuing truth in governance is peaceful reconciliation.  And, the phrase “peaceful reconciliation” is another way to talk about solving problems between two or more parties, and the pursuit of truth is key in this regard.

Typical “problem solving” involves two or more parties seeing a situation (call it the problem) and they each understandably define the problem from their point of view.  However, before exploring and discussing “the problem” with the other parties (so that they might understand the problem more broadly and perhaps even begin to define the problem from a “mutual point of view”), they quickly come up with their own solution to “the problem” from their unique vantage point.  And each of the stakeholders does the same thing.  They each understand the problem from their unique point of view and each has their own contending solution to “the problem” which reflects their viewpoint.

When the contending parties finally come together in a problem solving meeting to “discuss the problem”, they are often no longer attempting to understand the problem, but are now simply trying to “sell’ their solution to the other parties.  Each party attempts to “sell” their definition of the problem as being the most important and their solutions as being the best, irregardless of the whole truth.  The result is often more conflict, not less.  One party loses power, while the other party gains power.  Instead of a healing salve, there is only salt in the wounds.

One party may dominate the meeting which forces the others to withdraw.  A compromise may be fashioned which only achieves lukewarm success as nobody is really happy with the solution.  And, often the root of the problem is never resolved, but just resurfaces after some period of time in another form.  Truly understanding the problem from multiple viewpoints and building collaborative solutions that focus on mutual needs takes time, it takes trust, and it takes effort.  The results, however, are generally much more lasting!

When we replace the quest for power and domination over others with the quest for truth – with the desire to humbly learn from each other and a willingness to admit when we are mistaken – we build trust; we build relationship; and we build effective, lasting solutions.  The opposition is no longer my enemy.  They are now my colleague as we jointly unfold the problem to see it from all points of view, to seek truth, and to build successful solutions and reconciliation.

I recall on one of my work trips to Cote d’Ivoire, a military leader came to me and commented, “In Africa, we think, ‘you have this (product, luxury, or whatever), why don’t I have it, so I will take it from you (for myself).’”  However, he continued, “But you think, ‘you have this item, that’s good!  How can I earn it, too?’”  In essence, he was pointing out a change of paradigms – the first being a paradigm of power, the second being a paradigm of effective problem solving.

The beautiful and reconciling trait of truth is that it does not have to choose sides.  The truthbased method of problem solving requires that all parties take an honest look at each other’s needs.  It’s only then that a solution which works for all parties can be established.  The goal in this scenario is not power, but truth and reconciliation.  Letting one’s guard down to pursue truth can feel vulnerable, and it is!  Truth demands faith and love, rather than power and greed.  If you’re sensing a theme here, it might be that the pursuit of truth is difficult, and I would agree with that sentiment.  Yet, any difficulty is far outweighed by the beautiful fruits that result from pursuing truth!

This all leads to the fourth reason to be excited about truth!  Truth builds better people!  Truth keeps us humble and truth generates wisdom.  These are the types of people and leaders we need when it comes to solving our problems!

Effective leaders are people who inspire and lead from a humble commitment to truth.  The biblical account of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) comes to mind here.  I love this illustration.  When Jesus is asked by the Pharisees what to do, he says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. … at this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first ….”   This is such a powerful illustration of the power of experience and humility in the face of a crowd seemingly bent on a particular course of action. It only takes one person humbly acting on truth to change the course of direction of an entire group of people.  That’s effective leadership.  

A commitment to truth can also help leaders rise above the crippling stalemate of political correctness.  Now of course we should always be courteous and thoughtful about what and how we say things, but it is a problem when speaking the truth is completely banned (implicitly or explicitly) because it might offend someone or upset our political allies.  When we commit to pursuing and speaking truth we can do so in loving and humble ways; and the quest for truth should give us the strength to do so.  Leaders thus empowered are able to offer creative solutions, bridge gaps, and shed light on the “elephants in the room” that simply prevent things from getting done.

In conclusion, pursuing truth in life and governance may be difficult, but it is essential, as well as scriptural!  An elderly woman wisely advised me years ago, there are always three sides to every story, “His side, her side, and the truth!”  Williams F. Buckley, Jr. also eloquently quipped:

“Truth is a demure lady, much too ladylike to knock you on your head and drag you to her cave.  She is there, but people must want her, and seek her out.”

A commitment to truth produces better lives, better policy results, peaceful reconciliation, and more effective leadership.  With the right resolve, courage, and a little bit of humility, we can bring truth back into governance for the benefit of all.  To conclude, I would like to leave you with a few relevant and poignant thoughts – excerpts with my points of emphasis on “Finding Truth – Abandon the Straightjacket of Conformity” from Leo Rosten (1908-1997) a humorist, a Polish immigrant to the United States, and one of my favorite authors:

We are raised so that we confuse a way of thinking with the way of thinking.  We must try – desperately hard – to see things not as we are but as they are.  The function of the thinker, the writer, the editor, — indeed the function of the free man and free mind – is, stubbornly and painfully to try to find truth – truth as it is, not as we want it to be, or hope it to be, or prefer it to be. 

We must learn to seek change without violence.  Always change, and never violence – not even in words, much less in deeds.

We must try to understand each other by reconciling ourselves to the fact that most of us never mature; we simply grow taller.

We must meet fanaticism with courage, and idealism with caution.

We must be skeptical of that which is promised, but not proved. 

We must be strong enough to be gentle.

We are instructed in Proverbs 3:5-7 to, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on our own understanding. … Do not be wise in our own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.”  As we seek truth together, we have a foundation for successful governance and for successful lives in all that we do.

And, as I generally conclude, if anything I have shared today makes sense, let’s give credit to Jesus Christ.  And, if anything does not, then I take the responsibility.  Thank you for your time, your attention, and God bless you all richly.

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