Opinion. The Truth and Nothing But by Hal O’Leary

Opinion. The Truth and Nothing But by Hal O’Leary

Opinion. The Truth and Nothing But by Hal O’Leary. Another deep article in the weekly section Just Hal. Remember, every Saturday on Yareah!


Truth fears no question. Photo attribution Bobbi Jones Jones

Let us begin with the thought that there can be no absolute truth, and then proceed to the thought of how the concept of truth governs every aspect of our lives, while lack of truth may indeed be the basis of most human failure. Please bear with me; there is some method to the madness of such a strange beginning. With this approach we can bypass the myriad of widely varied and esoteric philosophic attempts to define what truth might or might not be. Perhaps we should focus, instead, not on what the word truth means, but, armed with a general understanding of its use, how it affects our behavior, more explicitly in our interpersonal relationships with others. For this purpose, let us turn from philosophy to psychology and the humanist Erich Fromm.

It is a contention of Fromm’s that the term “absolute truth” is sterile. He suggests rather that, in a more pragmatic approach, we should think of “optimal truth” in any attempt to understand our environment. In his book Man from Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics, we have this excerpt: “The history of thought is the history of an ever-increasing approximation to the truth. Scientific knowledge is not absolute but optimal; it contains the optimum of truth attainable in a given historical period.” Therefore, until we can answer the troubling question summed up in the shortest poem of the English language, “I . . . Why?,” we must remain satisfied with nothing more than an optimal truth. However, such an admission does not in any way discount the common understanding of truth as:

1. The state or quality of being true to someone or something.

2. Fidelity.

3. A pledge of loyalty or faith.

4. True facts, genuine depiction or statements of reality.

5. Conformity to fact or reality, correctness, accuracy.

6. Conformity to rule.

It is in these forms that truth becomes the basis for directing all ethical behavior.

From time immemorial, the axiom has been handed down that truth is an absolute necessity for the survival of any culture or social structure. It then becomes difficult to understand why history is replete with story after story after story of tribes, nations and even empires, often founded on a principle of truth, which have ultimately failed for lack of adherence to that one principle. I now imagine that many might consider such an idea to be a bit simplistic. The complexities of such failure are varied and many–so many, in fact, that it becomes impossible to fully understand with any accurate assessment the whole picture. But might it be possible to trace all of those complexities to an underlying, undermining, and insidious refusal to adhere to one indispensable principle?

It seems to me that most human enterprises of any kind, be they private or governmental, fail because of either coups or corruptions. Since any such enterprise will have placed someone in authority to formulate policy, it is certain that not everyone can be counted on to agree with the stated policy. Thus, it is not hard to believe that a disgruntled underling or cabal might formulate plans to unseat the anointed one. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” (William Shakespeare, Henry the Fifth, Act 4 Sc. 1). We can be sure that behind every throne lie aspirants in waiting, and wouldn’t one naturally assume that any plots for a coup would be kept in a most secret fashion, and would such a conspiracy not demand deceit with an absence of truth? Then, of course, with any successful enterprise comes the inevitable laxity which leads to a lack of oversight, which in turn leads to the tendency for some to become not only derelict in duty, but to begin the practice of deceitfully taking, for themselves, privileges and properties undeserved. This disease, commonly referred to as ‘corruption,’ then spreads to bringing down the enterprise.

Assuming that you the reader might agree so far, you might be interested in just how I believe deceit or the lack of truth can be understood as a basis for most human failure. It is really quite simple. With the absence of truth there can be no trust. With the absence of trust there can be no respect or love. Without either of those, brotherhood vanishes and human relationships crumble. We become alienated from one another, and ours becomes a “dog-eat-dog” environment in which every man must fend for himself. Please understand that such an anathema is contrary to human nature. As we have been told by all the sages of the ages, truth along with brotherhood is paramount to our very survival, and tragically we are closer than ever to their total loss.



For now, the loss of truth’s the only known.

The truth’s become old fashioned. Could this be?

With lies, we have decided to condone,

Just what the end will be, I cannot see.


The truth is now old fashioned. Could this be,

Like chastity and people you can trust?

Just what the end will be, I cannot see,

For those believing life was somehow just.


Like chastity and people you can trust,

A thing called love could also disappear

For those believing life was somehow just.

We’ve got to make an effort, or I fear


A thing called love could also disappear,

To set each individual apart.

We’ve got to make an effort, or I fear

There is the chance that we could lose the heart.


To set each individual apart,

With lies we have decided to condone,

There is the chance that we could lose the heart.

For now, the loss of truth’s the only known..

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Hal O’Leary is an eighty-seven-year-old Secular Humanist who believes that it is only through the arts that one is afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. He has been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from West Liberty University.

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