A healthy democracy cannot exist without healthy debate and a healthy debate cannot exist without an acceptance of truth. We can disagree on a great many things, but we need to agree on what the truth is. Until then, we can’t even begin to talk about “civility.”
Truth is defined (in Merriam Webster) as:
The body of real things, events, and facts : actuality.
Truth is factual. It is proven. It is infallible. It has to be. That’s what makes it true.
And how do we know what is true? We need to research, we need to cross-reference and we need to question. We need to challenge ourselves and each other.
So, yes, it’s important to question the news if we don’t think it’s telling the truth. But, a blanket demonization of all news media when it doesn’t support your opinion is a terrifying road to go down. A free press is a major part of our checks and balances and it is not there to blindly support our government and politicians. Our press has a responsibility to investigate and call attention to and challenge any missteps, malfeasance and weaknesses in our government. There are still responsible journalists out there doing ethical work, whether it supports the President or our government or not. That's their job. Our job is to, then, do our homework and verify before posting or proclaiming it as truth.
And, in this fast and furious age of social media, we also need to be weary of memes. Sure, some are just funny and some have factual information. But, some are made-up quotes and some are parts of a quote used to defend the very tenet that the full quote was opposing. I've even seen a meme posted that used an incorrect photo to accuse someone of being a Nazi in 1940s Europe when the person being accused was a European Jew whose family was actually forced to flee Europe from the Nazis. This is propaganda of the worst sort and memes like that are constantly being posted without checking for truth because they’re sensational and grab our eye and support our biased assumption. But, that doesn't make them true and that certainly doesn't help promote healthy conversation or debate on a topic.
Truth remains true whether it supports our opinion or not. So, it is up to us to adjust to truth. Not for truth to adjust to our opinion. This holds true whether you’re the president of the United States, the editor of a national newspaper or someone posting a punchy meme on Facebook. The truth does not blindly bend in anyone’s favor.
And, when truth punches holes in what we thought was true, we need to be open enough to see those holes as holes. We all need to be open to being wrong. It’s going to take that kind of vulnerability if we truly want to get to the truth of ourselves and our country. Because some of the beliefs we’ve come to accept as undeniable truth have been shaped by our country’s or our own trauma, fear and prejudice.
And I know it’s scary to challenge deep-seeded beliefs. But, here’s the thing. Calling into question what we know doesn’t destroy the deepest, most important parts of ourselves or our government. It strengthens them. And that’s the truth.