Cornerstone Blog ~ The Whole Truth

Posted by Michael R. Poll on Mar 27th 2024

Cornerstone Blog ~ The Whole Truth

The Whole Truth

By Michael R. Poll

Winston Churchill is often quoted as saying “History is written by the Victors.” On the other side of the WWII coin, Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels is quoted as saying, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” And, of course, circus owner and showman P. T. Barnum is often credited with the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Put together these quotes paint a most interesting and, when we think about it, disturbing picture. What we know of the truth and what we believe to be the truth is put to the test.

But what is the truth and what is not? It may not always be as clear as we think.

There are nuances in communicating that can sometimes blur the lines between the truth and a falsehood. These “blurred lines” can be the result of unnoticed errors, lack of ability to clearly express a thought, or deliberate misdirection. The whole truth can be sometimes accidentally or deliberately become masked.

Failures in communicating whole truths have resulted in an often-problematic Masonic history. For example, let’s look again at those above mentioned three quotes. Is there proof that the ones credited with saying these things are the authors of the quotes? No, there’s not. In fact, there is serious debate as to the authorship of each of the quotes.

So, what does that mean? If someone is claimed to be the author of a quote and it turns out that he wasn’t, does that mean that the quote itself should be discounted?

The three quotes are beneficial and can put us on guard against untruths. The only aspect in question are the authors of the quotes. That’s the trap. The real value of these quotes stand on their own no matter who said them. But the parts in question can over-shadow the value of each quote. It’s sometimes called throwing the baby out with the bathwater. When one aspect of something is discovered to be a problem, there is a tendency to throw it all out. What’s of real value is not noticed because of the desire to be rid of what is recognized as questionable or false.

As for the quote attributed to Winston Churchill, yes, the one who wins the war makes the rules. That’s been proven throughout history. To the victor goes the spoils. This is not a new concept. You have two sides with conflicting opinions or desires strong enough that they fight a war about it. If one side beats the other into submission, then they will be the ones who will get to tell the story of the war. Their version of the war (the history) is recorded and that’s the version that will be remembered. Centuries later, all we may be able to find is that one side of the story. That one side becomes “the truth.”

And then we have the Goebbels tactic which suggests that if something is repeated over and over, we often accept it as the truth, no matter if it is confirmed to be so or not. Showmanship and arrogant, self-assured delivery (even with no proof) does provide enough reason for some to believe whatever is said.

Does this mean that anyone who believes unconfirmed statements is a “sucker” as the quote attributed to PT Barnum implies? Well, good arguments can be made on that subject. Snake oil salesmen have always been able to make a good living. As a society, we do tend to be trusting of pleasing, entertaining rhetoric even if only seemingly of benefit to us. Proof sometimes only gets in the way of what is wanted to be believed. But there is more.

Any professional magician and many serious amateur magicians are skilled in sleight of hand. That’s when your attention is drawn to one place when something important is going to take place somewhere else. It doesn’t always have to be a physical distraction. It can be verbal misdirection. Sometimes a question may not be completely answered or answered in a way that points us in the wrong direction. It’s not really a lie, but it doesn’t lead to the whole truth.

An example of misleading by what is said would be if a friend asks you if he can borrow your car to run to the hardware store. You tell him OK, but that you need the car back soon. You ask him if he is only going to the hardware store. He tells you that the only thing that he needs to pick up at the store is a hammer. He says that he will be quick inside the store. You tell him OK.

Your friend goes to the store, quickly picks up the hammer, like he said, but then on the way back, stops by a friend’s house and visits for a few hours. This causes you big problems, but what he told you was not technically a lie. Your friend did pick up just a hammer at the store, and he did so quickly. He didn’t lie, but he also did not tell you the whole truth. He knew exactly what you said but misled you by leaving out a stop that he knew might give you cause to not give him what he wanted.

To understand the complete and accurate history of something or to know what someone or some people desire to do, you need to know the whole and complete truth.

So, how do we know if we are being lied to or if what is offered is not misleading? Well, we can’t control what others do or say. If someone is not going to be truthful or open with us, there is little that we can do about that. But it is on us if we accept something “as fact” with no proof. If we are told things, we can and should check them out. We should not accept brand new information as fact when no proof is offered. We need to question.

If some matter is important and we receive answers that do not conclusively answer direct questions, or leaves “wiggle room,” we need to pin down the one we are questioning. We do have a responsibility for what we accept as fact and truth.

If someone has a history or reputation of telling tales, then we become responsible for anything that we believe with no proof. It is our reputation that becomes at stake as well as the one telling tales. If you accept something told you from someone and it turns out to be false, there is no excuse for your accepting anything told to you by this person without proof to support what they say.

Masonic history has suffered over the years by published accounts of our history being less than accurate in many areas. For many years in the 1800s and early 1900s it was “common knowledge” that the various legends and stories of King Solomon in Freemasonry were actual historical accounts. It was not uncommon for many published accounts of history to be little more than a theory offered as a proven historical account.

We are taught very early in Masonry that we must trust our brothers. The candidate must trust the Senior Deacon for a successful degree. If the Senior Deacon does something to violate that trust, then the point of the degree is lost, and all is a waste of time and effort.

A responsible historian will write only established facts or offer new theories/information that they support with citations of where the evidence is located. A historian must not write a story based on the desires of individuals who wish to create certain outcomes.

Masons must act with honestly and integrity. We don’t play games with the trust of others or listen to ideal gossip. If we are given reason to not trust another, then we must recognize that as a most serious offense. We must recognize that it is our responsibility to not disgrace ourselves or Freemasonry by either spreading falsehoods or carelessly accepting falsehoods as fact by not requiring proof before belief. Sadly, these breaches of trust have taken place and we must be on guard. We are responsible for our own actions.

(first published in "Path of Light: A Masonic Journey" by Michael R. Poll Copyright © 2023 by Michael R. Poll)