Truth and Sharpie Art

In early September, President Trump used a Sharpie-altered map to explain the oncoming path of Hurricane Dorian into the state of Alabama. When questioned about whether a permanent marker line was really a scientific part of the presentation, or a hasty addition to help correlate questionable information that had previously been provided, the President doubled down on the error and insisted that Alabama was in the path of the storm.

Image result for trump sharpie


Many words have been written with righteous anger about the President’s strange relationship with facts and truth. Even before arriving in the Oval Office, his campaign often referenced that their truth was the real truth, and that anything else was fake news, even when reality clearly demonstrated that not to be true. 

President Trump insists that he is always right. His public posture is one of absolute and unwavering certainty. It doesn’t seem to matter if this certainty comes at the expense of others, or even if it changes at some point. He will never admit that errors have been made, or that he or his administration are not in perfect control. 

His Sharpied version of truth is never in question. 

All of this has made me wonder whether I also carry a Sharpie with me in different aspects of my life. When are the times when I claim absolute truth certainty, even going so far as to edit the truth to benefit my cause? 

I know I do this with my children. I claim, without a shadow of doubt in my voice that bedtime is bedtime (sometimes because I’ve reached my capacity to parent them well, even if they aren’t actually that tired). I am firm on things like the appropriate amount of candy and desserts (even when I know it probably wouldn’t hurt them if they had a few more pieces of candy from their trick-or-treat bag). I pull out my Sharpie when it comes to school, insisting that they go, even when they don’t want to, because it is the right and correct path forward (even if internally I occasionally question whether our education systems are really the healthiest ways for them to learn). 

If I’m honest with myself, I probably use my metaphorical Sharpie with my friends and loved ones too, making up lines to explain the reasons why I don’t have enough time or energy, or defending decisions that I’ve made in my past retroactively to save face – especially when I’m embarrassed by the truth. 

The reason that I carry a Sharpie is that owning the actual truth is often far more difficult than trying to draw lines around my made up drawings. My Sharpie is also used to pass blame, and to avoid moments of vulnerability. It is easier to blame traffic or a prior commitment when I show up late to an appointment rather than owning up to the reality that I just lost track of time because I was binging YouTube videos. It is easier to use my children as an excuse for why I need to leave a meeting before it has concluded, rather than owning my truth that I’m just tired and need to rest. It is easier to pretend I’m busy on my phone rather than engage the stranger sitting next to me on the bus or in the coffee shop. 

My Sharpie comes out whenever I feel like the truth will be more difficult than I can handle. 

Recently our student organization cohosted the women from the incredible Harry Potter & the Sacred Text podcast. During their visit we discussed the ability of the various characters in that series to speak truth, or their impulse to avoid speaking truth. Often these two postures are done for the same reason. Truth may be spoken as a way to stand up to those abusing their power, truth may also be withheld in an effort to undermine those in power. 

This conversation illuminated that there may be times when momentarily suspending a truth may be more important than actually speaking truth – especially if there are vulnerable marginalized people who will suffer when the actual truth is spoken. My hunch is that this is why we tolerate certainty over truth in our politician’s words. It is because we believe (at least when we affirm specific politicians) that their certainty will bring us to a better and more truthful future even if it means a few Sharpie lines are necessary along the way. 

How do you use your Sharpie, and why? Is there a better way forward when it comes to speaking your truth?

Author: Ben Wideman

Ben is the campus pastor for 3rd Way Collective, a unique campus ministry alternative focused on peace, justice, and faith at Penn State.

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