IN THE MIND

The truth is not out there

It is what you choose to believe.

In Summary
  • If it didn’t happen to you or it isn’t about you, then you heard about it or read it somewhere and that makes it a story.
  • And stories, to a writer, are neither true nor untrue.
Where the truth lies
Where the truth lies

Back in February of this year, when former President Daniel arap Moi passed away, I had a mind to write about him, and what Kenya felt like to me under his rule compared to what living in today’s Kenya feels like. 

But then everyone everywhere had something to say about the former President. Opinion was divided, with some not having anything nice to say about Mzee Moi and others saying very pleasant things about the man.

Minds were resolutely fixed about Moi and so I thought, what would be the point of adding yet another opinion to this litany of differing opinions?

As for the views about Moi expressed at the time, on the negative side of things critics of the mzee saw Moi as an authoritarian ruler; a brutal dictator who oversaw detentions, tortures, disappearances and murders. Not only that, this lot laid all the corruption in Kenya firmly at the old man’s feet.

On the opposite side, those who thought well of Mzee Moi praised him for improving education and maintaining stability in Kenya by promoting peace, love and unity. He was, these ones said, a hardworking leader, a Pan-Africanist, devout Christian, and all-round generous man.

So which is true? Was Mzee Moi an evil despot or was he a caring, kind man? Is it possible for both to even be true? What is truth anyway generally when it comes to people and things that may or may not have happened?

Truth, to a writer at least, is not out there. It is in the mind; something you cobble together using incomplete information, guesswork, embellishment, and exaggeration as material.

To most people truth is that which is in accordance with facts and reality. To a writer, truth is this abstract, amorphous thing. I do admire the certainty with which people express themselves about what’s true and what’s not, but I very often find myself on a different page. I mean, what can you really know for sure about anything if it isn’t about you or it didn’t happen to you?

And if it didn’t happen to you or it isn’t about you, then you heard about it or read it somewhere and that makes it a story. And stories, to a writer, are neither true nor untrue.

Here’s an excerpt from the TV series Black Sails to explain what I mean. ‘A story is true. A story is untrue. As time extends it matters less and less. The stories we want to believe, those are the ones that survive… Those are the stories that shape history.’

Truth, to a writer at least, is not out there. It is in the mind; something you cobble together using incomplete information, guesswork, embellishment, and exaggeration as material. Novelist Amy Tan perhaps put it best when she said, ‘…people’s acceptance of what is true and not true has a lot to do with their assumptions, their existing beliefs.’

You don’t have to agree with what I’m saying about truth, but it’s probably a good idea to think of truth as something in-house the next time you find yourself arguing bitterly with someone about what is true and what is not about other people and happenings, bearing in mind that what you believe to be true has to do with you and what the other person believes to be differently true, has to do with them.

Truth, in general, is subjective.