"I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent" - Mahatma Gandhi
"An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained" - Mahatma Gandhi
"When in doubt, tell the truth" - Mark Twain
It's not always easy to tell the truth. We all fail at it in varying degrees. Perhaps not with outright lies, but by bending, coloring or otherwise shading the facts in order to avoid consequences, humiliation or even spare someone embarrassment. For the most part, the consequences of minor lies are unimportant in the big picture of things.
But some lies -- about origins of conflict, corruption and injustice to name a few -- do have consequence. And when these lies are not challenged, they have a tendency to grow and multiply. They can become endemic, creating systemic misinformation that often leads to catastrophic outcomes for millions of people.
History has proven this time and time again. As societies mature, citizens turn lazy and complacent to what they are being told. In times of fear and disenfranchisement, many also lose their desire for truth. Opportunists who manufacture misinformation know this all too well and use this vacuum as an opportunity to extract something from the system -- be it money or power.
Today -- a time when bombs go off in Paris, millions are turned into refugees and the global economy seems uncertain -- deep-pocketed special interest groups of all kinds are increasingly finding it easier to distort our perceptions of reality. And our real-time ratings-driven mainstream media is often helping them.
Turn on any U.S. news channel and witness the mind-numbing debates between experts, fiercely arguing their side of any given issue. It's a gong show of misinformation. For the most part, news anchors sit on the sidelines acting as mere referees, armed without the research or the desire to elevate the debate.
The truth gets hard to find. This is particularly true in the most dangerous issue facing the world today -- the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. Not only are they resulting in massive casualties, but also in a refugee crisis of epic proportions -- a crisis that threatens to destabilize entire regions, including Europe, and is costing many lives.
We can easily -- as the gotcha debates that drive media ratings often do -- lay the blame for these conflicts on a few nasty regimes and/or terrorist groups. Perhaps we sleep better that way.
But should we not pause and ask ourselves what role we, in the west, have played in the chaos around us?
Perhaps decades of dysfunctional meddling in the affairs of many countries in that region has played a role in the current state of things. Under the excuse of protecting our "interests", we condemn and subvert regimes we see as our enemies while at the same time protecting equally brutal or worse regimes, who by luck or design happen to serve our interests.
Our foreign policy seems almost whimsical. We bomb or invade countries relying on misguided knowledge of the internal dynamics of those countries. We leave power vacuums that are then filled by warring factions.
There are those who profit, of course, from this deadly cycle of errors. Corporations profit from the sale of hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of weapons to the region -- weapons that routinely end up in unfriendly hands, either through mismanagement or our own shifting alliances. Regional tyrants, sometimes our supposed friends, create societies built on cronyism and terror.
Incredibly, we make the same mistakes over and over. Iran. Iraq. Afghanistan. Syria. Libya. The list is long. Worse, we then sit back and shrug at our errors and the region falls into disarray.
It's disgraceful. What is needed is a long long-term plan for the region. But how do we get there when we don't have the facts, or the means to find them? Imagine if instead of complacency our media and leaders looked at our role in these fiascos with complete facts and honesty? If we were told something closer to the truth, might we react with more compassion and maybe even act less carelessly in the future? Of course we would. But it won't happen on its own.
One of my favourite books is Mahatma Gandhi's autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth written in 1929. In it, Gandhi coined the phrase Satyagraha, which loosely translates to -- insistence on truth.
It is the foundation of Gandhi's non-violent resistance and civil disobedience that he used, against seemingly insurmountable odds, to help achieve India's independence. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and others also used Gandhi's clarion to better society --
"no, we won't put up with anything but truth and justice any longer and will simply not cooperate with our rulers until they treat us fairly".
Let us not allow a select few to show us a world through their own distorted lens and divisive rhetoric to suit self-interested agendas, fuelling an endless cycle of war and tragedy that profit some but destroy the lives of so many.
In times when governments and institutions fail us, as I fear they are now doing, it's up to citizens to speak out. But not with the fear-mongering and demagoguery we're seeing lately. Remaining complacent about the lack of truth in our system sets a dangerous path for all of us. Complacency serves as an invitation to all sorts of careless and self serving behaviour. It's time for all of us to demand a modern day version of Satyagraha.
Only the truth will free us from endless conflict and suffering. The world is now in desperate need of more Gandhi's. Put the word out.