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Piacenza: Truth be told . . .

Once upon a time, there was a monk sitting under a large, leafy tree meditating. Just as he was descending into a peaceful state, a man came barreling down the road and jumped up into the tree where the monk was sitting.

The breathless, red-faced man, leaned down from the upper branches of the tree and said to the monk, “Please, sir, a gang of bandits is chasing me and will surely rob and kill me if they catch me. Please don’t let them know that I’m hiding here in this tree!”

The monk said nothing as the man retreated into the leafy bows. Soon a group of rough looking men with swords stuck in their belts came down the road and approached the monk. “Monk, have you seen a man run by here? Which way did he go?”

The monk paused for a moment, considering the situation. Then he remembered the vow he had taken to always be truthful. Silently he raised one finger pointing up into the tree. As you can imagine, the story didn’t end well for the man who was hiding there.

Turns out, sticking to the absolute, naked truth isn’t always the best policy. The monk in the story could just as easily have made no gesture or simply shrugged his shoulders. Had he considered the literal fact in the broader perspective of the value of human life, he would have realized the higher truth.

The entire art and science of diplomacy is based on finding ways of dealing with the truth without clobbering your negotiating partner over the head with it. In any conversation involving differing viewpoints, the ability to restate the position that varies from your own in a non-judgmental way is invaluable. You needn’t add the raw truth that it is the stupidest idea you’ve ever heard.

The raw and naked truth is, in a majority population of Caucasians, people with darker complexions will not “blend in” visually. What then is the implication of repeatedly pointing out this obvious fact? It implies that there is some non-physical, non-visual corollary – that because those with darker skin stand out visually, they are fundamentally different in character, capability or other intangible qualities. Here is where reality and raw truth part company.

Is it true that providing non-English speaking immigrants with translations of official documents entails additional expense? Yes, it is. Teaching non-English-speaking children our language also requires additional effort and expense. To characterize these accommodations as “a burden on society” discounts the fact that all students benefit from exposure to different languages and cultures and society is richer and more vital for it. Fashion, food, music and art all flourish from the diverse input of a variety of sources.

The belief that you possess the one absolute and undeviating truth, even when seemingly based on a fact, can often be given the lie when a fuller and more complete set of facts is considered. In his recent national address from the Oval Office, the President recounted violent crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. The fact that the crime rate among undocumented immigrants is significantly lower than that of legal citizens undermines the President’s anecdotal cherry-picking.

The fact that, according to the Pew Research Center, the number of illegal immigrants in the United States has dropped to its lowest level in more than a decade contradicts his characterization that illegal immigrants are “streaming” into the country.

Truth be told, facts are necessary but not always sufficient to understand the whole truth.

Comments on this column are welcome at apiacenza@cableone.net.

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