Editorial: “Telling my truth” highlights perceptions, but whither impartial observation?

The popularity of the phrase “telling my truth” has ballooned exponentially since former Liberal cabinet ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpot left the inner sanctum of the governing party’s summit in a high profile spat over whether the economic “national good” and preserving employment numbers in the Liberal bastion of Quebec were good enough reasons to find an alternate route to punishing a corporate entity for legal malfeasance in a foreign land.

As journalists, we have a fatalistic acceptance of a reality where every story has at least three truths (we usually refer to it as “sides”), that side of those for a given thing, those against that given thing and then some nebulous entity known as “the truth.” But perception and point of view play a very large role in defining those stories, as the 1,000 BCE tale of the Blind Men and the Elephant so beautifully illustrates.

For the uninitiated, the story originated in the Indian subcontinent and revolves around a group of blind men who attempt to describe an elephant. Each of the blind men explores a different part of the pachyderm and comes up with their own “truth” of that iconic animal using those senses that they have at their disposal.

One explores the trunk, that snakelike appendage that an elephant utilizes as an all-purpose hand, straw and detector of scents. As could be expected, that blind man’s report varies drastically from that of the blind detective who explores the elephant’s leg, or the blind man who meets the broad side of the beast, or he who explored the elephant’s tail. Each brought back detailed descriptions that, although accurate as “their truth,” could not be reconciled to that of the others’ equally detailed reports from a limited perspective.

Journalists strive to pull together all of the divergent truths of the participants in a story and in doing so inevitably offend most, if not all, of those participants who view events through the lens of their own perceptions. Most journalists in following a story along its many twists and turns will be familiar with the accusation that “you’ve changed sides.” But our truth is that we are simply trying to pull together the stories of the blind men and the elephant to weave a picture of the whole truth—and that is our truth. In the inevitable challenges that come from following any given story on any given day, that tale will weave from one colour of the tapestry to another, but the best of journalists (apparently becoming less and less common in these days of the partisan news-entertainment industry) will seek to avoid adding their own analysis of the big picture, letting the reader create their own “truth” from the available threads.

In these days of hyper partisan polarization of social media, fewer and fewer threads of contrary colours are making it to the loom from which a story’s cloth is woven by the reader and that presents a problem. 

More and more, we are each being limited to only the narratives that reinforce our pre-conceived beliefs and any sense of a universal truth becomes not only difficult to weave, but literally impossible. We are becoming blind—limited to only our own part of the elephant.

With more and more nations on our planet holding the keys to the utter obviation of humanity within their grasp and an environmental crisis threatening to end civilization as we know it within our very lifetimes we cannot afford to only listen to one version of the truth. Our salvation lies not simply in the expression of our own truths, but in listening and understanding to the truths of others. We don’t have to blindly accept the truth of others, but we must be open to the possibility of our own truths being flawed by our limited perceptions and prejudices.

Humanity’s very existence depends on it.