Time for the TruthStephen Farah
“Whilst it is questionable whether or not honesty is always the best policy, what is beyond doubt is that truth is superior to any policy.”
To be frank I have always had an ambivalent relationship with truth. Without making a messy and perhaps inappropriate confession let me just say I have not always been convinced of its preeminent value in the greater scheme of things.
The question ‘is truth the most important thing?’ comes up in the Matrix Workshop. And I am often reminded of my wife Anja’s answer, the first time I ran the workshop at which she was present. Her answer was, ‘No it is not the most important thing, the most important thing is kindness.’
Now whether you agree with this or not, it has often been a value judgment I have been guided by. I frequently say what I believe to be the kindest or most appropriate thing the situation calls for. Rather than let’s say the unalloyed truth. Which I have frequently seen used to brutal effect by those professing so called ‘Christian values’.
Truth seems to possess a wonderful relativism.
As a Jungian this idea of appropriateness and persona (very simply the idea of civilised society being the product of civilised behaviour) can mould the truth in the most creative fashion. I will never forget the first time I encountered this disconcerting truth.
My Jungian mentor lived in Hillbrow at the time (a suburb in Johannesburg not dissimilar from the inner city projects in States). I arrived at his flat for my weekly lesson only to find a note on his door informing me that he would be ‘running a few minutes late’.
Sometime later, quite a bit more than a few minutes but less than an hour, which was the duration of weekly session, my mentor arrived back at this residence.
On the way to his flat, and prior to seeing the note his driver had strategically placed on his door (informing of the late arrival), he appeared quite flustered and in his most apologetic tone (which in truth wasn’t very apologetic) said,
‘Oh Stephen I’m very glad you waited. So sorry to have kept you but we were stopped by a police roadblock on the way home.’
My, laconic, ‘No problem your Grace.’
Then seeing the note which clearly he was unaware of and which anticipated the late arrival not withstanding any ‘roadblocks’ more than likely placed there prior to deciding to run a last minute errand prior to our class, unfased he said,
‘Oh trust a cunning black man (his driver) to anticipate the roadblock.’
End of conversation.
Tea with Raymond
Still compared to Raymond he was an amateur. The single greatest raconteur I have ever encountered is Raymond, bar none. And I have personally trained with some of world’s greatest (if not the greatest) storytellers.
Over the course of an afternoon tea in his office which was served by lovely young lass, one of the bevy of nubile assistant Raymond retained at his accounting firm, Raymond regaled my business partner and I with the most wondrous tales.
The dimensions of which were too wondrous, too epic and all round too other worldly to be squeezed into this humble post my brothers and only friends. Suffice to say that placed by flank against flank in a fair horse race against the legendary Arabian Nights one could do worse than to back Raymond’s stories as a good solid, if somewhat long, bet.
What lifted them though from the realm of mere stories into the sublime dimension of rhetorical art, was that he told us these stories as though they were the roilhoil truth, over the course of a business meeting, and after a gruelling tax consultation.
Now I don’t care what you say, that is impressive.
There are certain people whilst not being equal to the great Raymond, whom could best be described as an ascended master returned to this realm to guide us mere mortals, who have the gift of the gab. Specifically the bullshit gab. You no doubt know one of whom I speak and number them amongst your acquaintances.
Still that being said maybe there is something to be said about the truth. Whatever you think that may be. So in the spirit of stories I would like to share a story with you a story which is a matter of historical record about a man named Swedenborg.
The Story of Swedenborg
Swedenborg as you may have guessed was Swedish . His full name was Emanuel Swedenborg and he lived in the early 18th century. Now Swedenborg was an important man with an important job. He was an assessor with the Royal Collage of Mines in Sweden. He lived a life as was appropriate for a man of science and of some status in society.
That is until the hand of fate intervened, bestowing on Swedenborg in a series of dreams and visions in 1744 knowledge of the other world. The world of angels and demons, and visions that are the province of those blessed or cursed with insanity or second sight (assuming there is a difference).
Swedenborg’s reputation grew. No doubt in part to the publication of his visions where he personally visited heaven and hell and came back to talk about it.
His reputation as a seer grew enormously and was the subject of a study by no less a person than arguably the greatest philosopher of the last thousand years, Immanuel Kant in a book called Dreams of a Spirit-Seer.
Three stories of Swedenborg’s clairvoyance survive.
The first concerns the Queen of Sweden. Claiming he was able to commune with her dead brother the Queen requested that he tell her something that only she and her brother could know. Swedenborg dully whispered the requested secret into the Queens ear. Which the Queen, ashen faced, acknowledged as being something neither Swedenborg nor any other living person other than herself could possibly have known.
In the second story a Dutch ambassadors widow was being hounded by a creditor she was convinced her late husband had paid. Unable to find the proof of payment and desperate she turned to Swedenborg to ask him if it were possible to ‘ask’ her late husband. Swedenborg obliged and sure enough he told her the receipt was to be found in a hidden drawer in her late husband’s desk.
The final story, and the one that most impressed Kant as being authentic, concerned a fire that took place in Stockholm in 1759. Swedenborg was some fifty miles away from Stockholm at the time staying in an inn. During the course of the fire, over a few hours, he related to his companions how the fire developed and how narrowly his own farm escaped being caught in the path of the fire.
Sure enough over the next few days as news came through the events he had related mirrored exactly what had occurred. Naturally this was before the time of our current forms of instant communication and as such was considered miraculous.
Now make of that what you will. For my part I think a good dose of scientific scepticism is never amiss. Nevertheless there is something about the story of Swedenborg that is interesting. It influenced Kant, Schopenhauer and Jung. And may well have played a role in the development of some of Jung’s seminal ideas.
The one idea I want to share with you from Swedenborg is the idea of the immediacy of the spiritual domain.
Why in the final analysis truth is not only the best option but the only option
With the benefit of his second sight Swedenborg made many suggestions regarding the spiritual domain and in particular Christian doctrine. He was devoutly religious and as was the norm in Sweden at the time a member of the protestant church.
Amongst these the one that strikes me as the most fascinating (and true) is this:
That all souls (including embodied souls i.e. you and me) have immediate and constant access to the spiritual realm where every other soul is present. Amongst the souls no deception is possible every soul knows the thoughts, feeling, ideas and fundamental truth of every other soul.
This caused Kant to remark, ‘The virtuous person does not go to heaven he is in it here and now.’ And although he didn’t say it I think we can reasonably infer the corollary, the person lacking virtue (unable to realise his truth) is in hell here and now.
Anyway I think it’s an idea worth thinking about, a metaphor for a truth we all know. That anything we say, any action we take, any choice we make, that is less than 100% true is somehow a dilution of our essence. It is an act which only postpones the inevitable which is the realisation and the courage to face our truth and to speak it into the world.
That deceit of any kind is ultimately only the deceit of ourselves, because in truth no one else is ever really fooled. All that happens when we appear to have succeeded in deception is the other party is playing along and pretending to believe. But at bottom they know the truth as well as us.
I realise that this is (to some extent) a radical idea and one which require s a far longer exposition than I have space for in this post. Because as I noted earlier it is true that there is a degree of interpretation in terms of what constitutes the truth. And frequently the aspiration to truth is used punitively against others and ourselves.
Still I think you’ll agree with me when I say you know your truth as I know mine.
To quote the bard- Be honest with yourself and you will lie to no man.
At the start of this New Year and New Decade I wish you courage, love and beauty.
Truth I have a hunch is inevitable.