Leutz: The Truth
Because "your truth" doesn't exist.
This past January, in an inspiring acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey preached the importance of “speaking your truth.” Leading the charge in the #MeToo movement, a wake-up call for the persisting problem of sexual assault in our nation, Oprah sought to inspire voices that had been silent for too long. I applaud Oprah and her counterparts for their bravery in breaking this silence. I agree that the first step to putting an end to these atrocities, committed behind the scenes by some of our biggest stars, is to start the conversation. I thank those courageous enough to share and challenge anyone who would have wished that they kept quiet.
However, Oprah also inadvertently weakens the mountain-moving words of her fellow silence breakers because of the problematic nature of the phrase “speak your truth.” Oprah is absolutely right about the importance of speaking up, especially as it relates to survivors of sexual assault. But to call the truth “your truth” is to acknowledge a discrepancy between reality and the experiences of the women who came forward. Those brave women who exposed the disgusting actions of powerful men across industries were not speaking their truth — they were speaking the truth, and their demonstrated fearlessness deserves that distinction.
The concept of speaking your truth means that everyone is entitled to their own version of reality. By this line of thinking, everyone exists trapped within a telephone booth of their own experiences. Certainly, people can call their fellow citizens who live in other telephone booths and talk to them about life within their glass cases of reality, but there is no shared experience. No shared truth. I find collective truths to be integral for public discourse. Without them, people’s experiences are fragmented in a way that is destructive to discourse. Without them, we have no common ground for discussion. While personal truths are perhaps beautifully diversified, they are all merely individual pieces of art that don’t give a clear enough picture of the entire canvas of reality.
As a writer, I don’t want to be limited to speaking my truth. I have the self-confidence and self-awareness to say that the stories I tell are the truth. I have no intention of lying to the reader, and therefore, I see no benefit in taking ownership of truth by adding a “my” in front of it. I don’t see value in a truth that is personal. To me, truth is a widely held fact, a collective understanding that can’t be disagreed with or invalidated.
However, the idea of speaking one’s personal truth suffocates opportunity for discourse. Those who tell lies should not be let off the hook by simply being able to claim those lies as their truth. In this way, people should not grant oppressors the loophole of sharing their truth — they should challenge them to tell the truth. For instance, America’s most recent public struggle against sexual assault and how it relates to our understanding of truth was on the national stage with the Kavanaugh hearing. While I personally believe Christine Blasey Ford was telling the truth, and commend her willingness to come forward, that is just my opinion. Due to a lack of concrete evidence in the case, we may never know “the truth” about this situation, and it is important to make this distinction. However, what we do know, is that a “devil’s triangle” is not a drinking game, Judge Kavanaugh. It doesn’t matter if you believe that to be “your truth.” It is simply a lie.
Oprah intended to empower marginalized voices. However, in enabling personal truth in public discourse, guilty voices can no longer be held accountable. Before testifying in court, witnesses swear to say the whole truth and nothing but the truth. No part of that truth is personal. Rather, it is factual. Personal truth is segmented, fabricated, self-centered, even. What we should seek, and what the silence breakers gave us, was the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We should not discount their courage by allowing the truth about sexual assaults to be different for the victim and the perpetrator.
This piece is not an exposition of my truth. This is my opinion, which is based on the truth. If personal truth exists, then this opinion piece isn’t an opinion at all. Rather, it is my truth, and you must accept it, regardless of how outrageous you may think it is. Frustrating, isn’t it? I seek the truth and form my personal opinion from it — but “my truth” does not exist.