23 February 2011

The Man who Bought the Truth

Tante T. relates this Ukrainian folk tale...

Long ago, a peasant went to market. He had forgotten what his wife had sent him to buy, so he began browsing the various stalls hoping he would remember it. Suddenly he came upon a very old man trying to sell something very large for very little money.

"Truth!" the old man said. "This is the Truth, and I sell it cheap. Make me an offer, someone!"

The peasant was impressed. Surely this huge Truth must be good for something. So he bought it for the few coins he had with him, loaded it onto his cart, and with great effort took it home to his wife.

"What for you bought this great Truth?" she scolded. "It's too big to fit in our house. It's too big for our barn. We can't leave it outside, because it will attract too much attention and annoy the neighbors. We can't use it for anything. We can't eat it. Please take it back to the market and sell it back to the old man!"

The peasant heaved it onto his cart, and returned to the market, but the old man was gone. Nobody seemed even to have seen him. The peasant had no choice but to sell the Truth to whoever would buy it. But no one did. It was too much, too big, they all said.

So, he cut the Truth in half. Still no buyers. Then in quarters. Then in eighths. Finally he cut the truth into such tiny pieces that people found them convenient, and he sold them all, each one for only a little bit of money, but when he was done he had all the coins he could carry.

And that is why to this very day, everyone has only a little sliver of the truth, and no one has all of it.

And I must add that most people mix their little sliver with misinformation to make it palatable. When they give it away, they call it advice. When they sell it, they call it news. When they add falsehood to it and force it on other people, they call it advertising. And when they pay as little attention to it as possible, they call it politics.

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