The Importance of Truth
Island Voices

The Importance of Truth

by E. Dane Rogers

About three months ago, March Twisdale asked me to write a few articles for The Loop. We share many similar views, and many opposite views, but what stood out to us both was the centrality of truth and our pursuit of it. Cultures rise and fall on much smaller issues. Another thing that stood out in our conversation was that perceptions of truth and its importance vary from culture to culture. Humanity’s struggle with truth is universal. Thus, we agreed that I would write on the subject of truth from an international perspective, discussing the importance of truth for healthy societies.

This is admittedly a tall order! I fit the bill for international travel. I got bit by the travel bug when I was 18. Since then, I have scarcely gone a year without getting antsy to jet-set on my next foreign adventure. So, when it came to writing about international experience, I said, “No problem at all!”

But it was the angle of truth that has challenged me. How does one write an article on truth from an international perspective? The most humbling realization was, I am not an authority on truth. For that reason, writing about truth seemed like an impossible task.

March and I picked each other’s brains for quite a while, over multiple coffee dates, phone calls, and emails. I love the vision for The Loop being a channel for real conversation and investigation, not fearing cancel culture, browbeating, or warnings to toe the party line. To do this, truth must be its goal. Truth is undeniably important. And, in order to set truth as a goal, it must be defined. Truth is the content of reality – the reality that we all share, and must learn to cohabitate within.

But how does truth intersect with international experience? Let me start with what caused my fascination with travelling the globe. It wasn’t a wanderlust for exotic scenes, warm beaches, or high mountain peaks that made my heart palpitate … it was people, culture, and most of all, the languages they spoke, that raptured my passions.

Yes, I am the dork who would rather dissect Japanese Kanji over coffee than go clubbing in Shinjuku. I have more fun practicing Spanish and teaching English to the Quichuan kids in the Ecuadorian mountains than learning to surf in Máncora or bungee jump in Baños de Ambato. I would choose to exegete a pericope in Greek or Hebrew rather than lay about on some Mediterranean coastline burning myself to a crisp. Language and people, not luxury, is what has driven me to every corner of the globe.

Not surprisingly, after finishing university, my infatuation for language and people led me to South Korea as an English teacher. It was perfect. I spent every day exploring Korean, while my kiddos explored English. I would try putting some new words to use, sometimes eliciting a laugh with a bit of slang I’d picked up and stored in my back pocket, just for them. Or else I would attempt (and usually fail) to try new verb endings to express the many nuances of perception in the Korean verbal system.

My Korean students were kind enough to show me the ropes of their language, correcting me when I made a mistake. “No, teacher, you can’t say it like that.” Should I be surprised? Their language has rules, just like mine. They didn’t decide the rules of their language. And I couldn’t decide which I preferred and which I did not. There is plenty of room for stylistic preference in language, but there are simply rules that cannot be broken. There may be many correct ways to say something, but there are also many incorrect ways.

I think the kids liked the reciprocity of our interaction. I inevitably returned papers with corrections of incorrect grammar … and sometimes I would simply make suggestions for them to improve their style.
I remember one mistake that was so common in my student’s essays we had to spend a whole day discussing it. For some reason, whenever they addressed a letter, they would write something along the lines of, “Dear my mother,” or “Dear my best friend.”

You, the reader, are most likely a native English speaker. You know this is not correct. But do you know why? This became such an issue in my academy that I eventually had to “argue my case” to the principal. It turns out, this was how she was taught, too. It was probably how her teacher was taught. In fact, this error has become inculcated in the entire culture of English-speaking Koreans!

Recently in Korea, a movie was released entitled, “Dear My Lover.” I winced when I read that. And a new single was just dropped by one of the top Korean music artists called “Dear My Light.” It’s like nails on chalk to see the same error repeated again and again and again because truth has been exchanged for falsehood.

For those of us who know this is wrong, we can’t help but look at those who adamantly continue to demand the truth of their error and say, “They just don’t know any better.” But sadly, the response I got from my principal was, “Well, the professor who taught me is an expert in English.” Truly, he is among the top Korean scholars of the English language. But English is not in him the way it is in a native speaker. Trust me. I know what it’s like to spend years perfecting my ability to speak another language, only to be corrected by a toddler who speaks that language natively.

Let me tie this up in a bow. When March asked me to write an article on truth, drawing from my international experience, I knew I would be able to draw on experience, but truth is not native within me for me to draw from it freely. It exists outside of me, and I speak it like a foreign language. I want to become so familiar with it that I know it natively. To do that, I can’t get away with simply demanding that my errors are actually truths. Just as communication breaks down when we spurn the rules of grammar, so societal cohabitation breaks down when we perforate reality with the imposition of “my truth” and “their truth.” We all live within the truth, and we all had better start discovering it, rather than deciding it.

I had the unique opportunity to write this article while in Jerusalem. My friends and I spent a lot of time with a local named Ralf who went to great efforts to explain to us the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He said something that resonated with me, and I want to leave you with his words. “Truth might be complicated, but it is there to be discovered. What causes conflict is not truth, but our varying degrees of relationship to it.”

Without truth, we as a society have nothing that binds us together. We have no common ground. We have no basis for harmony. We have no order, no organization, no grasp of reality. I hope the re-launch of The Loop provides the opportunity for this community to discover that reality which knits us together. My hope and prayer is that we all move closer toward a better relationship to truth. Truth must be our goal, if that is all we have.

July 10, 2023

About Author