"You can't handle the truth!" So screamed Col. Nathan R. Jessep (played by Jack Nicholson) in the Rob Reiner film "A Few Good Men." He then launches into a tirade against Lieutenant Kafee (played by Tom Cruise)
"Son, we live in a world that has walls and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Whose gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because, deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall; you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to."
Jessep has a different system of priorities to Kafee; a different version of the truth. One of the discoveries of the post-modernists is that truth is relative. Perhaps they overemphasize this aspect, but it is an insight of some validity. Many witnesses may view a car crash from a different direction and each see something or at least emphasize something that the others have missed. But the bottom line is that the car has crashed. In the Hitchcock film, "The Birds" a dropped cigarette sparks a major explosion at a gas station. We know that the real problem is that the birds have gone haywire, but someone, concentrating on that detail, might use the scene as a case against smoking, or even against fossil fuels.
One of our problems is that we never see the complete picture. Scientists tell us that even by observing an event, we influence it. Sometimes I fantasize, when my soccer team loses and I was not there to observe it, that had I been there I might have made a difference. Perhaps a smart remark would have been taken up by the crowd. It might have raised the mood, which could have inspired the team to greater effort so that another goal would have been scored and the match saved. Fantasy, indeed, but might it not be true?
When Pilate asked, "What is Truth?" he was being a cynic. He'd seen so much that he did not believe in absolute truth. Modern man might say, "It may be true for you, but it's not true for me." as if there were a multitude of truths. Yet the car still crashed, the gas station exploded, Santiago was murdered. However, we 'see' the sequence of events we cannot uncrash the car, unexplode the gas station, bring Santiago back to life.
When I was a young doctor I worked for a surgeon who used to counsel his cancer patients thus, "My dear, you have a small growth, but you mustn't worry. I am going to cut it out and cure you." The word 'cancer' was never mentioned. It was referred to as a 'neoplasm' or a 'mitotic lesion'. It was terribly paternalistic and resulted in surgeons being regarded as gods. Things are very different now. It is expected that patients should be given every detail of their diagnosis (except in Japan where cancer is still never mentioned).
I wonder if this is a good thing. Truth about the future is nearly always contingent truth. If this happens then that will happen. It is also frequently speculative truth with a varying degree of uncertainty. Given what we know, this is likely to happen, but there is a one in ... 10, 100, 1000, ... chance that it won't.
Moreover, patients don't hear what is said. The mention of the word 'cancer' still screens out x number of subsequent sentences. Patients asked to recall what was said to them after the word cancer, usually give a garbled version of the subsequent conversation. It was my practice when breaking bad news to send the patient to an experienced senior nurse who had sat in on the conversation, so that she could rehearse what had been communicated to the patient.
I have heard patients complain, "Why won't the doctors tell me what is wrong with me?" when I know for certain that they have been told several times. I can only conclude, that they haven't been told what they wanted to hear.
I have been through this experience from the other side of the desk. I have become adroit at putting both the best and the worst face on the news that I receive. I am well capable of thinking up the most dismal prognosis for myself following a twinge in my tummy, yet at the same time of thinking up a totally benign explanation for the most worrying of X-ray findings. I shouldn't think that I am very different from most patients - I may have more information, but I am subject to the same emotions.
"You can't handle the truth!" No I can't. But then I don't know what the truth is.
When I tell a patient that his immunoglobulin genes are unmutated I can add that the median survival for such patients is 8 years. But that still means that 50% of patients that I studied lived longer than 8 years. I could tell him that the longest survivor that I saw lived for 12 years, but my study didn't look at huge numbers of such patients, there may well be many others who have survived for longer that I didn't see. And the patients I saw date from the early nineties and treatments have moved on from there. In any case in eight years time CLL might be a totally curable disease.
One thing I am sure about. All of us are going to die, unless the Lord returns first, whether we are nine or ninety. Should we metamorphose into Methuselah - he died aged 969, drowned it is said in the Universal Flood - our end is nigh.
But of this I am also certain. Jesus Christ died to save sinners and rose from the dead to demonstrate that the sacrifice was sufficient. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father and one day He will return to judge the living and the dead. The only escape from judgement is to put your trust in Him who saves to the uttermost.
Francis Schaeffer called that 'True Truth'.