“You can’t HANDLE the truth!”
Jack Nicholson didn’t really mean that. What he meant was that the truth would make him look really bad, and probably cost him his job. That’s often the case when obfuscation is claimed to be a concession to the other guy’s weakness.
But what about when a brave truth-teller, like Paul Ryan (see my brother’s recent posts), is lambasted for telling it like it is? Saying that he lacks compassion for the poor, that cutting government-subsidy programs like Food Stamps is condemning a hefty share of our population to starvation, may or may not be true.
What is true that to continue doing nothing about our galloping debt will eventually condemn us all to worse than starvation. And without any alternate plans, without a willingness to dialogue on the plan that Ryan is proposing, those who are pointing fingers at Ryan are like the stubborn first-grader who refuses to wear his raincoat when you recommend it to him…then is furious with you when he gets wet.
This reminds me of a discussion that I heard many years ago on the ethics of evangelism. A Jewish contingent was questioning the motives of evangelical organization Jews for Jesus for proselytizing. They viewed JFJ as insensitive and narrow-minded. JFJ’s argument was simple: “If, in my perception, you are trapped inside a house which is on fire, how can it be insensitive to tell you so, and to offer to help you escape the blaze?”
[More recently, Penn Gillette, an avowed atheist said much the same thing, about a man who gave him a Bible after one of Penn & Teller’s performances:
I believe he knew that I was an atheist. But he was not defensive. And he looked me right in the eyes. And he was truly complimentary,…it didn’t seem like empty flattery. He was really kind and nice and sane and looked me in the eyes and talked to me and then gave me this Bible. And I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there is a heaven and hell and that people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?
I mean if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you and you didn’t believe it, but that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that. And I’ve always thought that and I’ve written about that and I’ve thought of it conceptually.]
Truth often hurts–mainly it hurts our own self-perceptions and preferred realities. It is uncomfortable or–if you prefer–inconvenient. [Maybe Ryan’s budget plan could be renamed “An Inconvenient Path.” Would it sell better?] But that doesn’t mean such truth shouldn’t be spoken. I’d love to ask the folks complaining about Ryan’s budget and its effects on the poor, “What are you personally doing to help the poor acquire food and shelter…and better yet, education and skills and jobs? Are you volunteering in a soup kitchen? A clothing bank? Building with Habitat for Humanity? Tutoring in a literacy program? Giving regularly to the charities of your choice?” Because I suspect that if everyone who thinks that government subsidies are indispensable would do one–or several–of the above mentioned things…we could make government charity much less necessary, except in dire cases.
But regardless…Paul Ryan is obviously passionately concerned about the welfare of this country. There is a really big truck bearing down on us. We all see it. He’s trying to tackle the problem, as he sees it. Agree with him or don’t. But how dare anyone criticize him for trying to help us all avoid the collision.
There’s another thing to recall about truth, a statement which is a little bit older than Nicholson’s famous movie quote. “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Would that we would all become truth-seekers–even if it hurts. We could use true freedom.