Truth Matters: It’s time to put truth at the heart of everything we do
Recent scandals in the UK, although affirming just how far we have become distant from truth, have also highlighted an opportunity to become collectively, better and more truthful than we have been. In short, we can now make truth matter more. Indeed, it is our obligation to do so.
Over recent years, the concept of “truth” has become inherently plastic. At best, it has been something to play with. At worst, truth has been treated with contempt, like an irritating indulgence that simply distracts from what really matters. In politics, business and society, truth has been replaced by hyperbole, false promises, wilful opportunism and downright lies. Truth has too often cowered in the corner watching a procession of crude impersonators take its rightful place in the world.
Truth has too long been absent at the table; replaced by the drip-feeding of a “hungry hope”. This hungry hope is shaped by a belief that that things will change if we really believe, defiantly and forcefully, in an idea, strategy or hero. In this scenario, truth gets in the way of belief. Politicians, not all but too many for comfort, feed needy populations with the promise of the rainbow’s end.
The curious incident of the “turn to truth” in UK politics
In the UK at least, something is definitely stirring. Whether the focus is on Covid rule-breaking, the inability to pay the correct amounts of tax, greenwashing, or the exchange of money for influence, truth has reared its head as an itchy protagonist.
Perhaps counterintuitively, our worlds of connectivity have created a level of potential transparency that means lies and misinformation often rise to the surface more quickly. In previous generations, lies could have a shelf-life of decades or more. Now, the clock is ticking; the lifespan of non-truths is limited, sometimes to a matter of months, weeks, days or even hours. Lies now have a much shorter shelf-life.
As a country, we are now having to face the question “what kind of civil society do we want?” The answer is one that is truthful, open and more honest than the one that needs to be left behind. We haven’t chosen this shift; it has been forced upon us by the absence of truth in the matters that shape us and society. We now have a democratic system that is on its knees and incapable of generating popular support. We have industrial conflict at a level we thought had long been left behind. And we have a pervasive popular cynicism that grows steadily. Making truth matter more is the only meaningful way forward.
So, what does all this mean for anyone involved in communications, PR and advisory services? What does it mean for those who believe it is important to live beyond lies? Well, quite a lot actually, and here’s the rub. Truth now matters to our fortunes: individually, socially, politically, culturally and economically. Lies are only really any good if you can keep them hidden for the necessary duration of time – enough time to “get the job done” without being outed. It’s now much more difficult to make this happen. Lies are now much more likely to be outed, and outed more quickly, than ever before. So, reputations are ruined, commercial performance is compromised, and tears appear in the fabric of everyday culture.
This is where it may be necessary to take a deep breath. Every organisation, be it a school, university, business or government in all its forms, needs to create and live by a truth manifesto. A manifesto is both a clear iteration of what drives and is meaningful to an organisation, as well as a rallying cry for action.
A truth manifesto would put telling the truth at the very heart of what an organisation is, not simply a loose value to be played with. Such a manifesto would govern our interaction in the world, including how, what and with whom we communicate. Imagine it. A society that actually believed in the core principles of truth and what it stands for! The foundations of such a manifesto would be taught (and followed) in schools. What is the point in compulsory maths until eighteen when there is little or no moral compass?
Each of us has a moral responsibility to tell the truth. As people involved in communications and advocacy, we hold a privileged position in society. Let’s help build truth manifestos wherever we can. Why not encourage our clients to see the benefits of more explicitly truthful ways of operating? When we are talking purpose (isn’t everyone these days….) let’s talk about truth rather than all those flights of fancy that so often lie behind organisational purpose. At the very least, we should be clear that lies will be outed at an ever-accelerating rate. Being a hostage to fortune is not a comfortable state. Far better to be on the right side of history by embracing the fact that truth matters.