December 5, 2010 at 6:47 pm 3 comments

Ensuring a future 

Part 1

Based on talks on the subject by Ralph Dobrin, and his forthcoming book “How to Avoid Armageddon”

Humanity has never had it so good. Or at least a large part of humanity. For the first time in history, over half the people on earth have running water in their homes. This is something that we in developed countries take for granted. But indoor plumbing is actually a relatively new thing. Throughout most of human existence people had always needed to tramp every day to the nearest well or river and draw water – in all kinds of weather. Usually it was the womenfolk. But today, over half the people on earth have taps and faucets and showers in their homes. And hot water. Over a third of the people on earth have flush toilets – halleluya! Humanity has indeed come a long way.

In many countries all over the world the average person enjoys more luxury and comfort than kings did a few generations ago. We can travel to distant lands in a way that was undreamed of by the most powerful monarchs a mere hundred years ago. We have instant contact with people anywhere. And there are so many other ways that our lives have been improved immeasurably in the last few generations.

We all know this. And we also know that these are indeed very uncertain times. We are probably living in the midst of one of the most crucial moments in history. With all the many wondrous ways that life has improved for a large part of humanity, the threats to the well-being, to existence itself , have never been so daunting.

I don’t think it’s necessary to go into detail regarding all the challenges and threats that humanity now faces. Everyone them all too well. In fact, by the time the present generation of six-year-olds reaches Barmitzvah age, or even beforehand – humanity could very well be in the midst of a Doomsday situation. And to a surprising extent, it happens to coincide with prophesy in the scriptures.

It’s interesting that people have always predicted a doomsday. Mythological and religious writings about a future global cataclysm can be traced back to the earliest days of civilization. Makes one wonder. Is there something about the human mind that is intrinsically and morbidly pessimistic or have there really been a select few throughout the ages, who’ve been so closely in touch with the cosmos that they could know what the future would bring?

But no matter what the answer to this question is, Doomsday, or whether one calls it the End of Days, or Judgment Day, or whatever, is clearly a most awful prospect. Prophesy talks about universal destruction on a completely unprecedented scale, making the horrors of all previous wars seem like mere trivialities. A question that comes to mind is: can it really be that the dreadful visions prophesied in the Scriptures are indeed being played out – whether by divine intention or coincidentally by human obtuseness?

Now, even a cautious skeptic like myself cannot ignore the correlation between biblical prophesy and many of the events that have taken place in recent times, such as … the “ingathering of the exiles,” in the Books of Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel; or Isaiah’s prophesy that “the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.” And there are others.

But the most sobering prophesies – at least for me as someone living in Israel – and observing the increasing isolation of this country in the face of impossible odds, would include Zecharia in chapter 14, where he says, “I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle …”

And the passages referring to Gog and Magog in the Book of Ezekiel (Chapters 38 and 39), involving a confederacy of nations that will attack Israel. Today, these passages don’t seem so far-fetched when observing the present deep, knee-jerk antagonism towards Israel by over half the nations in the world.

However, many theologians of all faiths believe that the prophecies should be seen as very serious warnings to heed the Almighty’s commandments. In secular terms, I believe it means working for a more just world order, providing enough food for everyone and doing whatever is necessary in order to contain pollution, climate change and of course thwarting the demonic ambitions of nasty tyrants and dangerous bigots.

I like to believe that we can all still work to avoid Doomsday, whether we see it as biblical prophesy or as a secular metaphor for the dangers ahead. And what is needed is not something revolutionary or something based on ingenious scholarship or the revelation of any esoteric texts. No! As simple and as simplistic as this might sound, what is needed is plain, common decency. That’s all. Plain, common decency, but with the main emphasis on truthfulness. Oh come on, you might say. Be serious, for goodness sake. How is truthfulness going to solve pollution or poverty and hunger? How is truthfulness going to cope with the likes of Ahmadinijad?

Well think about it – throughout history it has usually been fib and fabrication that have been used by inept leaders to cover up blunders; while scoundrels and tyrants have used lies, half-truths and unkept promises to gain and keep power and to wreak havoc and cause inestimable misery. And it has been gullibility or indifference of most people that enabled the evil to be done. And in the course of this talk I will show you the correlation between all this and truthfulness.

Many people might say that things are too far gone to be corrected. That only prayer and religion will save humanity. And sure, prayer and religious observance is fine, if it inspires and fulfills you, if it makes you feel close to the divine essence of existence. That’s wonderful. But religious devotion – no matter what religion – when not bound by a strong inclination towards truthfulness and respect for others, can become very far removed from righteousness. Interestingly, the ancient Jewish sages taught that common decency comes even before Torah, even before the Bible. “Derekh eretz kodem latorah.” Also, the Bible and the Talmud have numerous references to the vital importance of telling the truth. So in actual fact truthfulness can also be seen as a religious observance.

Before continuing, we should consider the meaning of truthfulness, so as to appreciate its power and its effectiveness as a tool, as a basis, as a guarantee to success in any human framework or cooperative venture, whether as a family, or a club or business or entire nation. A general atmosphere or spirit of truthfulness engenders mutual trust and cooperation. That would be logical, wouldn’t it? Also, truthfulness enables the smooth flow of information and intelligent, sensible decision-making. All these things together create a far more pleasant, efficient, productive and successful entity. Clearly, truthfulness is quite possibly the most important value for humanity.

On a more executive level, whether in a large company or local or national government, or international affairs – imagine a working framework at all levels of any hierarchy, that is based on openness and a minimum of concealed information, of facing facts honestly, facing the truth about all situations, whether complimentary or positive or terrible. Imagine administration devoid of intrigue and running mainly on integrity. Too good to be true? After all, one can’t get ahead unless we play dirty, isn’t that so? Well, that’s precisely why there are so many problems everywhere. But in today’s precarious world, some of these problems, if allowed to continue, will quite possibly destroy us. That’s why we must change this mindset. That’s why there must be zero tolerance to any form of falsehood.

Now, when we speak of truthfulness, we’re not necessarily talking about “truth,” which while connected is not quite the same as truthfulness, and we don’t have to get too deep into abstruse theories or propositions by Maimonides, Plato or Kiergegard on the full meaning of the word “truth” – which granted can be a fascinating subject, if one has the time and inclination. However, for the purpose of our discussion we should clarify a few things about the word “truth.”

Firstly, it should be said that the often-repeated phrase that everyone has his own truth, actually mangles the meaning of the word “truth”. What everyone has in actual fact, is his or her own notion or belief of what one might think is a truth about something, but that notion or belief, all too often lacks pertinent facts and might include half-truths and quite a bit of wishful thinking. And no matter how deeply felt, it is often just a notion or a belief. Not necessarily the truth.

 However, we should understand that every single thing, every item, whether visible or invisible, every recorded or unrecorded event and every concept, does indeed have its own set of truths, based on reality, facts and conventions. With some things, the truths are readily ascertained. A table, for example, is incontrovertibly and truly a table. It possesses certain clearly and easily ascertained truths such as its size, weight, shape, color, materials from which it is made and its functions. These are truths regarding a table, which if ever relevant to some cause or debate, are easily verified.

But ascertaining the truth about less tangible, more abstract things is a different proposition. The truth about a robbery or a car accident, or historical events, or the validity of religious or ideological claims, or assessments relating to the arts, tastes, human relationships, etc, are all very subjective, largely judgmental values and therefore no matter, how strongly we might feel about issues connected with these things, what we have in essence, are often merely whims, feelings, notions or beliefs. Not necessarily the truth.

Which now brings us to the related word Truthfulness and that’s what this article is about. Truthfulness is an integral part of honesty. Apart from telling the truth, it also means refraining from expressing half-truths or indulging in selective omission, which are actually forms of lying. Truthfulness also means refraining from saying things that we are not absolutely sure of, and if we do say or claim things that we are not quite sure of, we should make it clear that we are not sure of what we are saying. We should make it clear that we either heard or read such and such, or that in our opinion, maybe such and such is the case.

Truthfulness is not just a question of how we ourselves express things. It has a converse side – and that is how we receive and choose to understand what others say. This depends on our ability to sense in others, whether what they say or claim is truthful, or maybe questionable, or unlikely or downright false. Even if it is something that might appeal to us, but because it might seem to be a little too glib, or too contrived or it just doesn’t make sense, we should have the ability and the integrity to question or reject it.

So, understanding the vital importance of truthfulness as a value, how do we promote it universally. How do we spread a universal attitude and embrace of the tenets of truthfulness?

But before we discuss how to go about promoting truthfulness, it’s important for us to do some soul-searching, and ask a question: are we ourselves truthful? Am I basically a truthful person? Or perhaps I should rephrase the question by asking myself: How often do I not tell the truth? Do I sometimes exaggerate things? I’m not talking about saying something like: “I waited for half-an-hour in the rain,” when in actual fact I waited only twenty-five minutes and it drizzled for a few minutes. I think that just about everyone indulges in such minor inflation of facts from time to time. It’s not too terrible, but it is a bit of a lie, a teeny weenie little lie. And according to the principles of truthfulness even such a fib should be avoided. However, what about gross exaggeration like for example if I say: “I waited for half-an-hour in the rain!” when in actual fact I might have waited for a quarter of an hour or only 10 minutes and during all that time a few tiny drops of rain might have fallen nearby. Such exaggeration is clearly a lie. And let’s face it, many folks indulge in such lies.

By the way, I want to state for the record, that I don’t consider myself to be a completely honest person. Granted, today, I think I am more honest than I used to be because I understand more fully than before, the importance of honesty and truthfulness. I understand its importance on a personal and a global basis. But I confess that in the past I have indulged in countless exaggeration; I have told many a white lie; I have tried to impress people, especially womenfolk, with fib and fantasy – on a scale that makes me ashamed when I think of it. Sometimes, even now I still catch myself about to regurgitate one of my old fibs. But I usually catch myself in time. At least I hope so.

Now, I think that most people are pretty honest most of the time. We might exaggerate a little from time to time, but under normal circumstances most people will seldom tell an outright lie. But there are times when the large majority of normative folks engage in falsehood – often not even realizing that they are lying. Drivers caught speeding or not heeding a stop sign, will often swear when stopped by a policeman, that they were traveling at far less than the speed limit, or that they did indeed stop at the stop sign. Or when criticized or scolded for something, we often lie about what we heard or didn’t hear or what we understood.

How often have we found ourselves in such situations and lied? How often have we given some kind of cockamamie excuse for coming late to an appointment or made some fake claim of not feeling well to excuse our failure to be somewhere, or for not keeping some promise? And there are dozens of other situations, which have prompted most us to fib or lie from time to time.

But we won’t go into any more examples of lying now. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves too much. However, like I’ve said before, the subject of truthfulness is really tremendously important and this needs to be driven home to more and more people. It needs to become the in-thing everywhere. It needs to be appreciated, revered, venerated and studied – yes studied – so as to become a fixed national characteristic. The study of the subject of truthfulness – and indeed there are many aspects to such a study – can become part of the program of lectures and talks at work places, synagogues, churches, community centers and other public venues, or generally at places where people gather to work towards making this a better world.

It is also important to realize that falsehood is not only a question of telling lies or indulging in gross exaggeration or deviously concealing something vital. When we choose – because of convenience, expediency or bias – to ignore or downplay a negative phenomenon or danger, or allow a blatant, potentially dangerous untruth to go unchallenged, we are in fact subscribing to falsehood by knowingly allowing it to prevail. This is what we should consider when contemplating what to do on a personal basis regarding global warming and pollution, or any other important issue for that matter. We should be asking ourselves, whether by the way we are facing what seems to be evident, or choosing to ignore it, are we following all the principles of truthfulness and integrity, or are we, heaven forbid, pandering to falsehood. How we answer this question has a direct bearing on our future and the future of our children and grandchildren.

Now one more thing about the nature of truthfulness. There are many issues that most of us automatically accept or reject, depending on what political stand it represents or seems to represent. Many issues seem to be bound by a certain political principle or party line – usually according to liberal, progressive or conservative views, Left-wing as opposed to Right-wing, Avoda versus Likud or the more radical proponents on each side of the political divide, or Republican versus Democrat in the States, or Tory versus Labor in Britain, etc. But it should be realized that both Left Wing liberal or progressive and Right Wing conservative views present many valid points. The Left’s concern for equal rights, freedom of expression, social issues and the protection of the environment, together with the prevention of warfare, are indeed noble, worthy sentiments. And so is the Right’s concern for morality, free enterprise, security of one’s country and a loyal, honorable national identity. It’s all good stuff. No? But unfortunately, a common attitude is to assess the acceptability of something by how it tallies with, or differs from an overall political platform or ideological system, or which politicians are supporting or rejecting the idea. Not always, but often, this tendency precludes considering each issue on its own merits.

So, often we choose to ignore or downplay certain salient facts, or we unconsciously accept falsehoods because they might tally or clash with a political, ideological or religious loyalty, thus we sometimes come to conclusions that are not necessarily based on sensible reasoning, but more on sentiment, bias and a selectively partial review of a given situation. And that’s very sad, because in today’s dangerous world, we cannot afford the dubious luxury of whim, wishful thinking or any kind of flaw in our thinking – not when it involves problems of an existential nature.


The thing is that if there’s any problem that got started with strong emotions and … untruths, it’s the Arab-Israel conflict. A short review of a few main aspects of the conflict sums up exactly what we said earlier – how falsehood in its many forms can cause a problem or a conflict, perpetuate it and prevent its resolution.

Going back to the early part of the last century, when Jewish immigration to Palestine began to increase noticeably, I think in the interest of truthfulness, we need to appreciate the deep concern that the Balfour Declaration must have aroused among the local Arabs. Think about it – the Balfour Declaration not only seemed to flout earlier British promises to the Arabs, it also aimed at setting up a national homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine. So, to any informed Arab at that time, it must have seemed, not just a threat to their nationalistic status and aspirations, but terribly unfair as well. After all, at that time in Palestine, the Arabs outnumbered the Jews by about nine to one.

So, understandably the Arab leadership in Palestine was worried. And they warned, or rather some of the leaders, headed by the Mufti of Jerusalem, warned their people that unless they woke up and acted, the Jews would take away their lands; their homes and their jobs; they claimed that the Jews were also planning to take over the el Haram el-Sharif that’s the Temple Mount – with the highly venerated El-Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. But, none of this was accurate. Jews were indeed buying land, but this wasn’t the same as taking it away. Certainly not when, what the Jews were acquiring, were usually the more arid tracts or even swampland and paying good prices that included compensation to any Arab tenant farmers. In any case Palestine was a much larger country in those days and its population density was about six people per square kilometer!  It would seem there was lots and lots of space for everyone.

As for taking away jobs from Arabs – the contrary was true. The Jews brought enterprise and helped generate more jobs than ever before. In fact, with all the Jewish immigration as well as the British Mandate, many Arabs from the surrounding countries began to arrive in Palestine because of the opportunities for a better life.

And as for the fear that the Temple Mount would be taken over by the Jews, Jews were actually urged by their rabbis not to enter the Temple Mount, because of the fear of profaning this supremely sacred spot. In addition to all these unfounded warnings about losing their lands and homes and jobs, were the totally false claims on a number of occasions during the nineteen twenties, that hundreds of Arabs were being butchered by Jews.

And sadly, all this exaggeration, half-truth and lie got the attention of the Arabs of Palestine, and lit a fire that is still raging to this day.


Now, just imagine what might have been, had the Arab leaders been more truthful about the situation. Or imagine them granting that the Jews had helped bring more enterprise and job opportunities. This is in fact what the Emir Feisel had expected. Imagine the racial calm and absence of serious inter-communal discord, had the false claims of an intended Jewish take-over of the Temple Mount not been made, or had there been no lies about hundreds of Arabs being butchered by Jews. The history of this land might have run a different, happier course for everyone.

In part 2 of this article we will go deeper into this premise and examine whether the Israel’s generally unfavorable status in the world has any bearing on the ability of humanity to cope with all the serious global problems that threaten our future well-being and existence.


Entry filed under: dangeous lies and halftruths, In order to survive, Solutions for Palestine. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

Ensuring a future … No more lies – part 2

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. LEON KELLERMANN  |  December 11, 2010 at 5:31 pm





    • 2. truthandsurvival  |  December 12, 2010 at 6:08 am

      You are right that it won’t work if both sides do not constantly abide by the principle of truthfulness — a situation that exists everywhere and in the Arab-Israel conflict as well. What the blog suggests is the promotion of widespread truthfulness — a situation that needs to be worked at long and hard in order to achieve, and that needs the active participation of everyone — mainly by personal example — who realizes that this is probably the only way to solve problems and indeed redeem humanity. Incidentally, I know that the blog indicates that Arab untruthfulness is more prevalent. I am sorry about this but history indicates that while all nations indulge in falsehood, the Arabs have suffered from their fabrications more tragically than most other nations.
      – ralph

  • 3. No more lies – part 2 « ISRAEL AND TRUTH  |  December 12, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    […] you want to see part 1 of this article, click Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Understanding the Conflict: Israel’s War on […]


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