“Speak your truth.”
It’s an earworm that’s been buzzing and badgering in my mind since Oprah’s “rousing speech” last Sunday, which I have as of yet failed to watch in its entirety because I still fail to be stirred by pretty rhetoric strung together with money and manipulation. But this whole truth deal, it’s been bugging me.
See, I wish I’d known I could have spoken my own truth when I was in school falling asleep over geometry problems while trying to match them to the answer guide’s truth. I wish my boss knew that when he finds a mistake in my work. And I wonder what would have happened if the world had known that when Hitler decided on his formulation of a master race.
Pop culture spins on an axis of relative thinking. Forty years ago, that pattern of thinking encouraged the men of Hollywood to stick their hands up women’s dresses and taught the women to be okay with hands up their dresses. It’s why we got on board with Oprah when she told us all that wishing something made it so. And it’s why she’s jumped out to lead a movement of truth: your truth.
Can I give you a little grammar lesson? (My ability to deliver a 90-second instantaneous grammar lesson is one of my two and a half talents, after all. I’m sure my coworkers go home thanking their lucky stars that I’ve taught them how to use good vs. well.) Today I’m stuck on pronouns. Briefly speaking, we use possessive pronouns to show ownership. These are the likes of our, your, my, their, and its. These little suckers distinguish my subject from yours. Their job is to impart a piece of factual information: this site is mine, that dress is yours, that house is his. They communicate that if that house is his house, and this house is my house, then these houses can’t possibly be one and the same.
Now to be sure, one thing can be owned, after a fashion, by many. There’s nothing in the world wrong with describing this country as my country, his country, your country. But there’s everything in the world wrong if my country is England and yours is India, because we first defined it very specifically as one country with the little demonstrative pronoun this. (I’ll follow up later with that lesson). When applied to truth, that means that your truth or my truth only in fact exists when what you think and what I think match an external definition.
See, truth isn’t a shapeshifter and it doesn’t have multiple-personality disorder. By definition, only one version of itself can exist. 2 + 2 cannot equal a tabby cat while also equaling 4; if it can, we do not have truth, we have a child’s story. So if truth can only exist in the form of 4, you arguing that it is a tabby cat means nothing. You can argue that your tabby cat wants to be 4, you can explain that she can pull off a mean Number 4 costume—but it’s still just your tabby cat, not your truth.
But why then, if I have the number 4, can I not say that 4 is my truth? See, other people also have 4. In fact, everyone knows it’s 4. Stars just waking up know it’s 4; every pimply kid in elementary school knows it’s 4. You don’t possess it at all; you merely know it. I’ve heard the Electoral College is a thing; much as I’d like to own them, my knowledge of it still does not make them mine. If I wake up tomorrow and decide to form my own, I still wouldn’t have the Electoral College, I’d just have a sad little group of politicians that I wished was the Electoral College.
Whose truth dictates that the 2018 definition of harassment is good? Whose truth tells us sex must be consensual? And if truth is created by the act of being spoken or felt, then why are we not holding up the truth of white supremacists? Trump’s truth? Your Republican uncle’s truth? Your ditzy starbucks-sipping freshman niece’s truth?
How does one define truth then? If each of us can possess our own little casserole dish of truth, what happens when you’ve got shepherd’s pie in yours and I’ve got boxed mac ‘n cheese in mine? To be more lucid: Can your truth be different from mine?
If you argue that your hatred of jazz indicates that jazz is not music, why then, the only truth is the existence of your very poor opinion that you hate jazz. You cannot actually change the definition of it; we can only be certain that you hate it. Is each of us responsible for the definitions upon which we base our lives, or are we merely responsible for how we react to those definitions? That’s what the grammar lessons brings us to, after all. It’s not about the possessives; it’s about whether they can be used to own multiples of a substance purported to be omnisciently singular. It’s about whether they can be used at all in relation to a concept that would cease to exist if it were created inside the boundaries of a person’s control.
If truth is to be truth, it has to exist outside the metrics of possession. If truth is to be defined as what is rather than what validates, it cannot be sheltered under the umbrella of ownership. It has to lose the pronouns, the restrictions, the emotional appeals, and the talk show hosts. It has to be defined separately from the instincts of sensitive white girls and the greed of belligerent entertainers. Truth exists to be discovered, not spoken. It lives to illuminate, not to be felt. Don’t talk to me about your truth; tell me instead how truth has shattered and re-stitched your frame of perception. Tell me how you found it. Tell me how it changed your life.
But don’t tell me that it’s yours.