This morning on my way to work I listened to the lastest episode of This American Life. It was a retraction of a story they did a few months ago which was an excerpt from a play about Apple. The guy who had written the play, Mike Daisey, had made some stuff up and TAL didn’t fact check properly. So this week they issued a retraction. And not just any old retraction, they issued an hour long retraction. Nothing says commitment to truth better than spending an hour telling people how you stuffed up by letting someone else not tell them the truth.
It was a really interesting episode, definitely worth a listen. You can hear in Ira Glass’ presentation that he is taking the whole thing very seriously and very personally. As he interviews Daisy you can hear him struggling to maintain his journalistic manner. The interview is riveting and very uncomfortable.
It got me thinking, for at least the entire walk from my car to the office, about truth. Mike Daisey created a play about Apple that was presented as fact, but had many made up bits in it. He insisted that it wasn’t a lie because the theatre has a different standard of truth. Truth and fact disconnected in the theatre in a way that doesn’t translate to journalism. Sp I wondered where my boundaries for truth and fact are. If someone were to fact check my discussions, the stories I tell, the feelings I express, would they find that I had blurred the lines in between truth and lie in service of a genre or a good reputation? I thought about when I preach, often my illustrations exaggerate my feelings and responses because it helps the listeners to relax and relate. Generally when I do a humorous illustration I’m much happier to exaggerate then in any other type of illustration. When I am telling someone else’s story, or telling about something God has done, I’m much more careful with the truth. I’m assuming that people can tell when I’m being silly and when I’m not. But can they? Preaching is a genre that is tied to truth, if only the truth as understood by the preacher. Can a preacher exaggerate, leave details out, add flourishes when giving their illustrations and then speak what is presented as God’s truth when explaining the Bible? Are listeners happy with the genre shift within the sermon? Is it appropriate?
What also challenged me was TAL’s commitment to making sure the truth was told when they made a mistake. Sometimes I make a mistake with the truth that is accidental, I don’t always fix it up. Should I? What if the person will never know, and it won’t make a difference to their life? How committed to retraction does one need to be personally? I don’t know. I usually correct things when I have been adamant about something and it turns out to be wrong. Sometimes I think this is a commitment to truth but more often than not I’m probably just concerned they’ll find out what is true and realise that I was wrong. Better to admit your mistake before someone else points it out. I find it hard to distinguish where my commitment to truth ends and when my pride begins.
I’m pretty sure if we didn’t have so much pride going on, we’d all have a lot more reliable truth going on.