Yours, mine and ours: Truth in the 21st century

For the second year in a row, I’m going to comment on the Golden Globes (2017 was Meryl Streep). It seems strange to do so, considering I don’t really make a habit of watching the Golden Globes, and didn’t even turn it on this year. But how could one escape hearing about The Speech given by Oprah Winfrey as she accepted the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award? In real time, tweeters on Twitter declared that she should run for president. During the next 24 hours, headline news was full of it — hashing and rehashing the speech and what it could mean for the future of the talk show host-turned billionaire.

There’s no doubt Oprah’s speech, primarily in response to the #MeToo movement, was energizing. Many commentators said she “took us to church” with her “preaching” that touched on race, gender and class using poignant anecdotes and personal experience. Her voice was invaluable in underscoring the fact that the sexual harassment and abuse of women is far from acceptable at any time in any place.

But it’s when she directly addressed the concepts of honesty, lies, truth and falsity that things got, well, murky.

“I want to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association because we all know the press is under siege these days,” she said. “We also know it’s the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice. ... I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”

Though I am not an expert in moral theology or philosophy, that fast swing from “absolute truth” to “your truth” in one long sentence is enough to make me pause and wonder: How can we champion the press — or anyone else, for that matter — in its search for “absolute truth” if we are saying, literally within the same breath, that truth is changeable?

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We shouldn’t be surprised by this. “Speaking your truth” is a highly attractive phrase today. It resonates 100 percent with the secular-minded culture that just last month in a Pew poll revealed that it is not as likely to emphasize the religious aspects of Christmas. Less and less tethered to belief in or expectations of a higher being, our society instead wants to take control, supplying our own definitions of what’s wrong and right — our own truths. Hello, relativism.

But our culture cannot have it both ways. We can’t champion the seeking of absolute truth when it comes to journalism and media and yet, one-on-one, decide that “my truth” is the only thing that matters. We can’t logically say facts matter in one arena but that they take a back seat to feelings and opinions in another.

So, though she deserves some praise, the truth of the matter is that, when it comes to truth, Oprah missed the point.