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Adrian: The Greater Truth

As a lawyer, I’m well acquainted with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but I’m beginning to think our notion of what the truth really means is shifting - and that isn’t good.

Objective truth does indeed exist. Through the ages, scientists have striven to understand objective truth and define it. Philosopher scientists understand that humans are incapable of grasping pure truth, because the very act of observing an objective truth by a subjective viewer changes the objective nature of the observance, even if the alteration is only of the slightest degree.

Our judicial system recognizes that human juries are incapable of determining pure truth. So the plaintiff in a civil case is required to prove the facts by a “preponderance of the evidence” - often thought of as greater than 50%, while the prosecution in a criminal case is required to prove the facts “beyond a reasonable doubt” - commonly believed to be somewhere north of 90%. In fact, I don’t think there’s any legal standard that expects a jury to find the unalloyed truth.

But it does exist, and even if we can’t know it with absolute certainty, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to come as close to it as possible when engaged in any type of fact finding inquiry - or when sharing facts with the whole world, as we are now empowered to do with a single tweet or post.

In a world now awash with falsehoods, the quest for the truth is more elusive than ever. There even appears to be a societal sense that if one side is spreading non-truths and mistruths – otherwise known as lying – the other side must respond in kind to serve the greater and counter the imbalance. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The Oxford English Dictionary identifies more than one hundred and seventy thousand words in current use. Society is built on our ability to communicate and work together. Communication in turn is built on a system of vocabulary with standardized meanings. And while meanings may change over time, our mutual agreement over the meaning of words in the present moment is of critical importance.

We’re each entitled to - and absolutely should speak - our beliefs and opinions, but there’s no “my truth”, “your truth” or “their truth” – there’s only “the truth” - and it’s out there.

Ed Adrian is an attorney at the law firm Monaghan Safar Ducham PLLC. He previously served on the Burlington City Council for five years and currently sits on the Burlington Library Commission.
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