New thoughts on a very old word, and what it could mean for us today.
My Introduction to Trouthe
- Where: High school
- When: @1980.
- What: Advanced Placement English Literature.
My classmates and I were required (i.e., forced) to read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, estimated to have been written between 1375 and 1400 by an unknown author. We struggled through a Middle English version of the medieval poetic tale, with minimal assistance from footnote translations (Abrams, sec. The Middle Ages (to 1485)). A central concept of this ancient story was “Trouthe.”
Recommended*: For a much more enjoyable and informative read than the Middle English version, try this Simon Armitage 2008 translation of SGGK (Armitage).
Armitage presents a side-by-side presentation of the text with every flip of the page – Middle English on the left, Modern (contemporary) English on the right.
My Interpretation of Trouthe
A Graphical Representation
Since my first reluctant scholastic exposure to the concept of Trouthe over 40 years ago, I have come to appreciate its evolving significance, and I have embraced it as a guiding principle. Here’s a concise representation of my current interpretation of Trouthe for your review.
- Curiosity: The continuous sincere desire for knowledge
- Accuracy: The ongoing practice of critical inquiry to vet knowledge
- Fidelity: To embrace proven facts, vet the unproven, and disregard the false
- Honor: A personal devotion to righteousness – a code of morals, values, and justice
- Respect: A sincere regard for the significance of others and the world around us
- Trust: Worthiness – living up to one’s word and keeping promises
- Character: One’s complete, honest, and authentic personal identity
- Courage: The capacity to engage regardless of fear, and without insecurity or malice
- Commitment: A dedicated investment of attention, thought, emotion, time, and effort
Truth is Fundamental
Why is it increasingly elusive?
Today, differences in philosophy, politics, and culture often fuel conflict at the hands of those who are motivated to manipulate the truth or to discount any data which is contrary to their own position. The motives, at best, may be ego, fear, or greed; at worst, the intents are malicious, destructive, or evil. Behaviors or beliefs that filter, alter, ignore, or contradict “the real facts,” defy the very definition of truth (Truth). And without truth, Trouthe is a non-starter.
Author and journalist Amanda Ripley, in her book High Conflict: Why We get Trapped and How We Get Out, labels those who fuel conflict though misinformation as “conflict entrepreneurs” (Ripley). Broadcast and social media has unfortunately made misinformation profitable – and successfully so, because it is also personal. It’s highly marketable because it plays on emotions that we all experience. It tends to feed our fears. It exploits our aversion to feeling disrespected, our inherent desire to be right, to matter, and to have a sense of belonging in the world.
All Three Dimensions are Foundational
I have certainly made a hobby (if not obsession) of studying SGGK. I have read 50+ translations and own no less than 10 published versions. From the themes in this story, my life experience, and my observation of human behavior, I have come to value Trouthe as a state of being – a worthy aspiration. This applies to myself, the teams I work with, and those I consult.
In striving for Trouthe, amid our various personal challenges and shortcomings, it becomes blatantly clear that neglecting any of the three dimensions has the same effect as removing one or more legs from a three-legged stool. Failure.
Truth and Integrity are great. But without the character, courage, and commitment of Purpose, we’re left to wrestle with the manifestation of the well-known quote:
I believe the most dangerous foundational failure is misguided Purpose, void of Truth or Integrity.
- Character without truth or integrity lacks moral substance.
- Courage without integrity breeds malice; bullies are cowards.
- Commitment without truth or integrity yields willful ignorance and harmful acts.
As we continue our journey into 2022, we find ourselves mired in layer after layer of misinformation, deeper than perhaps ever before. Equivocation, half-truths, dishonesty, lies, deceit, false narratives, “fake news”, etc., are just some of the terms we hear with increasing regularity. Meanwhile, we attempt to navigate the underlying motives behind the escalating creation and spread of false or misleading information. Divisiveness seems to feed upon itself and grow to the point where we cannot believe, agree with, or even understand, what they believe, say, or do.
Let’s approach this year aspiring to Trouthe. Your interpretation of this concept may differ from mine, which is as it should be. In the end, Trouthe is personal.
- Discover your personal Trouthe – encourage others to do the same.
- Be inspired to come together in mutual understanding and support.
- Have the difficult, but necessary, conversations – don’t forget to listen and learn.
- Acknowledge that we each experience our shared reality from unique and valuable perspectives.
- Recognize the truths of our collective knowledge, based on real and proven facts.
- Engage one another with integrity and noble purpose.
- Challenge one another to be better and do better.
Abrams, M H, editor. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 3rd ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 1975.
Armitage, Simon. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (a New Verse Translation). A New Verse Translation ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2008.
Ripley, Amanda. High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out. Simon & Schuster, 2021.
Schwartz, Debora B. Chaucer’s “Truth” and “Gentilesse”: Introduction to the Middle English World View. Medieval Literature, 2019, http://cola.calpoly.edu/~dschwart/engl512/chtr&g.html. Accessed 15 Jan. 2022.
Truth. Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/truth#.