Saturday, July 10, 2010

Truth and Consequence

Oftentimes, people twist the truth to serve their own selfish purposes. This is very common in today’s politics. If politics were a game, maybe we can call it Truth or Consequence.

One of the very first things the newly-minted Philippine President Noynoy Aquino did after being sworn to office was to establish a Truth Commission, which would look into allegations of corruption during the last administration. True or not, it is public knowledge that the previous term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is littered with scandalous contracts like the bungled national broadband network (NBN) deal with China’s ZTE Corp. and the so-called P700-million fertilizer scam.

President Noynoy Aquino in his inaugural speech said he would adopt the “justice with reconciliation” policy of his late mother, former President Corazon Aquino. Towards the end of her term, however, President Cory Aquino failed to prosecute anyone for participation in any government anomaly, especially during the repressive and corrupt Marcos regime.

Perhaps, it would serve the new president well to learn from recent history. Upon assuming the presidency in 1998, Joseph Estrada created his own fact-finding commission to investigate alleged anomalous transactions that went into the Centennial projects undertaken by his immediate predecessor, former President Fidel V. Ramos.

After the Philippine Senate turned over its findings and recommendations on the Centennial projects, Estrada found himself caught in a web of political intrigues and battles with Ramos, ending in Estrada’s ouster from office in the EDSA 2 People Power Revolution in January 2001. We hope that Noynoy Aquino’s Truth Commission will not suffer the same consequence.

The search for the truth doesn’t always end with the results we want. There could be power struggles among protagonists who would rather hide the truth, so they try to mask the truth with lies. Or in some cases, they ignore the real truth and substitute it with another, which is not necessarily true but enough to keep the masses at bay and prevent them from waging an uprising. Or, perhaps staging a peaceful People Power Revolution like the ones we have witnessed in the Philippines every time there is a national political crisis.

In smaller organizations, though, the truth could yield a different and totally surprising matrix of consequences. Emotions are usually more intense when friendship or fellowship is involved. When someone is exposed, say, his avowed claims about his credentials for acceptance in the group have been uncovered, his friends in high places with whom he has made some favourable impression would rally to keep him, instead of embracing the truth that he had lied to get into the group. It is even worse when the same person has the habit of hurling obscenity, profanity and malice towards those whom he deems as his enemies, an aberrant behaviour that is not condoned by many, if not by the group’s code of conduct. Put the situation in a public forum, and no one would be willing or be brave enough to deplore such behaviour, either for fear of being ostracized or being considered an outsider.

Sometimes, the truth becomes a vulnerable casualty of our moral deficit, our seeming lack of probity just to keep the fellowship of those we idolize and put onto a pedestal even for vacuous reasons. For instance, some would prefer the company of an upstart or a fake, someone who feigns intelligence or puts up a front to cover for their shallowness. It is not surprising to find a number of these types in many organizations. In most cases, the life of a party is a clown or a buffoon. Many would prefer the buffoon or show-off to someone who doesn’t flaunt and tend to be more inward-looking.

This moral deficit is the cause of the loss of civility in this modern age. We have replaced social feeling with defensiveness, with being in the company of like-minded people who would circle their wagons around petty concepts of identity and commonality of interests. We tend to put barriers against others we don’t see eye to eye. We fragment ourselves into subgroups armed with abrasive self-boosterism and disregard of others.

Some of us have lost what Goethe called the “courtesy of the heart.” There are some in our midst who disrespect the value of the individual and the rights of people different from themselves. As a consequence, we become malevolent and fill ourselves with ill will because we fall short of our estimation of our own self-worth. The defences we put up become the walls that keep us from seeing the total picture.

Truth-telling is the most fundamental tenet of life in general. It makes sense that the moral functioning of any individual and society as a whole is enhanced by the truth. But since every aspect of our lives has been touched by almost everything around us, whether these be institutions, values, religious beliefs, fads, gadgets, friends or idols, the truth has mutated under their influence or effect on us. As pervasive as truth is, oftentimes it is not so clearly defined. We tend to be subjective, accepting the truth or falsity of propositions depending on what we believe, rather than hold our truths in an objective and fair-minded way, independent of our beliefs or sensibilities.

In smaller groups, we tend to accept as true those that are held in common by virtue of mutual affection, admiration and association. We believe in someone, for instance, because he is cool, hip or tech-savvy, and tend to ignore that person’s predilection for insincerity and pretence. And so we defend fiercely these deeply-held convictions, even foreswear good manners—a vital cog in healthy relationships—over what is the real truth and its consequences.

Civility is paramount in the pursuit of truth. Although conflict is endemic to the human condition, it rests upon us to manage it in such a way that we allow reason to prevail, instead of warping it to inflict pain on others. Over the long haul, hiding or masking the truth to protect our injured egos has dire consequences. Without the light of truth, we will be lost in the dark recesses of our own lies and deceptions. Not seeing the other side but our own—a consequence of our human frailty—will sink us further into our fear of acknowledging what is true and noble, what defines us as truly human and humane beings.

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