We live in an age of unprecedented challenges to the truth. Reality is under siege. All of us can point to examples: Politicians who manipulate the truth or withhold it; social networks that facilitate portraying ourselves as happier and more successful than we are; an epidemic of heroin use that prevents millions of young Americans from facing the problems they must overcome to be successful.
Does it matter? Why, after all, is the truth said to be sacred? Why can’t we indulge the parts of ourselves and our culture that suggest we can slip the bindings of reality and use our imaginations to pretend we have more friends than we do, or that we aren’t facing mortal enemies abroad, or that our leaders need not be authentic, so long as they are entertaining, or that our companies need not prove their value, assuming they can assert it, convincingly?
The answer is this: Human beings suffer in exact proportion to the extent that they depart from the truth. This is a structural beam of the individual and collective human mind and soul, perhaps literally encoded in our DNA, and it defines our place in the universe. Human beings need the truth as much as we need food. Jesus and Gandhi both proved it by fasting, when necessary, until certain truths became known to them and others. And, for the sake of this argument, it matters not at all to me whether you believe that this elemental need is woven into us by God or by science. It just is.
How do I know? I have sat with thousands of men and women who find themselves in profound psychological pain, in large part because they have attempted to avoid facts about their lives – whether having been imperfectly loved as children, having been deeply traumatized by loss or having been made to doubt their true talents and possibilities. I have unearthed with them the buried stories of where they veered away from the core facts of their existence – especially the painful and anxiety-provoking ones. And I have seen how retracing their steps, facing these facts and accepting them have alleviated their pain and made them more powerful.
Human beings suffer in exact proportion to the extent that they depart from the truth. This is a structural beam of the individual and collective human mind and soul, perhaps literally encoded in our DNA, and it defines our place in the universe.
The toll of avoiding the truth is always the same: a falling down or a falling apart. Every debt to the truth must be paid, with interest. Every debt.
This is the case for not paying attention to a mole on your skin that has darkened ominously, then continues its malignant transformation, uses the bloodstream to spread itself and attacks vital organs.
It is the case for not paying attention to lower quality goods or ideas being produced or embraced by one’s company, which then sparks falling revenues, which then minimize the potential of the venture or lead to bankruptcy.
It is the case for honoring celebrities of low character who then corrupt the characters of our young people, who emulate them.
It is the case for ignoring mortal enemies of the nation who may seem weak or far away today, but who are gathering strength enough to become a cancer here, in a way that could end freedom.
The truth will not be denied. The truth always wins. To the extent that we align ourselves with it, we thrive. To the extent that we deny it, we suffer.
For human beings, created, as I see it, in the image of God, it has always been that way and it will always be that way. And this is why great leaders cannot also be liars, and why great initiatives cannot also be half-measures, and why a cure for all that afflicts us is already inside us.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.