Who owns the truth?


Written by: Kristin Langeland


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Kristin Langeland
Photo by AbsolutVision

I recently came across a quote by Jacques Cousteau which he described as his life philosophy: “People protect what they love, they love what they understand, and they understand what they are taught.”

This to me says a great deal about education and human curiosity. But it also makes me contemplate how what we are told becomes our truth. And the endless powers which lie in what we – individually and as a society – are taught. And I am not just referring to teaching in schools and universities. I mean the lessons we are offered every day of our lives. In a world of constantly updated information, endless messages, and rapid changes: What of the things we are taught and understand do we protect and love? And who become our teachers?

The comeback of the press conference and a boom for conspiracy theories

I work in communications. Much of my day is spent writing messages, tweaking sentences, and carefully selecting the correct words. Naturally, I spend a lot of time observing and analyzing how others communicate. I monitor those who teach us and what they are saying. The past year has been fascinating in this regard. For the first time in a long time the world has been completely preoccupied with the same issue; the pandemic. And correct information has never been more important. The truth has not been subject to interpretation as information has been essential to save lives.

Even though almost all of us have been given the same evidence, not everyone has chosen to accept what they have been told to be true. The past year has been a boom for conspiracy theories. Which I suppose is to be expected in a world where the truth has largely been unanimous. Even the otherwise very critical press has seemed to have had a shared voice. We are after all used to debates. When it is not there it will make certain people suspicious.

Another thing making a sensational comeback is the good old press conference. In recent years, they have become rare as new digital communication platforms have become more suitable means of spreading messages and launching campaigns. But since March 2020 we all tune in to weekly stripped-down sessions where authorities tell us the latest information about the topic conducting our lives. The purpose is to teach us and make us understand. The authorities have owned the truth.

“We are losing control of what people are being told.”

In 2018 former Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland gave an interview about the internet and social media in Dagsavisen. Her words were plastered over the front page and read, “We are losing control of what people are told.” She was talking about the internet and the massive opportunities this endless digital universe provides for misinformation.

Early in the Trump-era it was given a name: Fake News. Still, there is something about Brundtland’s words when she describes the issue.

“We are losing control of what people are being told.”

— Gro Harlem Brundland

Why do we need someone to control what we are told? After all, they are telling us the truth, are they not? We must look at this statement through the eyes of history.

Authorities have historically owned and taught the truths we base our lives upon. Starting with religion, continuing with monarchs, politicians, and others who hold power. Today celebrities and influencers also let us know the world according to them. In the days before the internet, information was provided in a completely different way. Books, encyclopedias, newspapers, and then radio and TV. These sources were not accessible to all and controlled by few. Today, the internet, social media and Wikipedia make all of us participants in the global conversations. One could argue egalitarianism may never have been closer when it comes to owning and sharing the truth.

Teachers are all around

In this regard, teachers are all around. In the media, on Instagram, those we look up to, those we are inspired by, those who awake our curiosity. Athletes, singers, artists, men, women with voices and a message which resonates in some way with us individually.

And then there are those giving press conferences on a weekly basis. What are they teaching us as a community? And do we need their truth to be our truth in order to love and protect it? An expression like “my truth” would be unthinkable years ago. And now we will see the Duke and Duchess of Sussex explain their truth to the world in an interview with Oprah. The Queen might have another. “Recollections may vary” was the subtle way of expressing just that when Buckingham Palace issued its statement following the interview. The truth has become fragmented, individualized, and capitalized.

No matter who your teachers are and what you are told, it is important to be critical. To think for yourself. Be curious but not suspicious of the world around you. Look for the intention behind the words, whoever is speaking. And the simple answer to the complex question of who owns the truth in today’s world is; you.

As I write this the SHE Conference 2021 is being held. 14 days and 100+ speakers devoted to leading a positive change in a world desperate for a better path for the future. Is there one common message to be taught, understood, loved, and protected amongst the endless stream of ideas given the past year? Perhaps. If I were to select one, it would be the following. We are in this together. Together we change. •

Kristin is a professional commentator and communications director.