You’re at a party with friends and someone suggests that you should (insert random questionable act here), and with a wink and welcoming hug around the shoulders exclaims, “it’s OK, everyone’s doing it”! Maybe you see a Facebook post by one of your friends, with gossip about another school mate’s personal life, and wonder if something so shocking could be true. I know you’ve sat in church and questioned whether God really exists or not, and I’ve seen you struggle to reconcile what you see and hear from your friends with the values and principles taught by your parents. In these situations, and in the hundreds of decisions you make each week, you must “discern” what is true, to choose the right response.
“Discernment” is a big word that describes your effort and ability to separate truth from falsehood. But what is truth? That’s a million-dollar question that philosophers, theologians, scientists, politicians, teachers, moms and dads, and kids have wrestled with for centuries. In a nutshell, there’s general agreement that things which are “true” match what we know from experience, agree with standards known to be true, do not contradict themselves, and are useful in making decisions. When faced with dilemmas of choice or conscience, discern what is right by asking a few questions:
- Is someone promising a positive effect for an action or behavior when you’ve already learned from personal experience that the behavior has a negative result? Would you hit your hand with a hammer if someone asked you to? Having stayed up all night at a slumber party, you know from experience that bodies require rest to function well. You could be stubborn and decide to experience everything personally first, but it would be far wiser to listen to those you trust who’ve made mistakes. Ask their opinion before embracing a falsehood that you’ll eventually regret. It’ll save you from a lifetime of physical and mental bruises.
- How does the point in question compare to a trustworthy standard of reference? The proliferation of Wikipedia-style sites and the ease of publication has made everyone an expert on the Internet. When everyone’s an expert, then nobody is. Ron Conlin of JD Powers & Associates states about Internet reliability, ‘”We are seeing a lot of questions being asked very inappropriately to the wrong kinds of people, and the wrong information is transmitted.” Far better to seek out standards that predate the Internet, and are generally recognized as qualified sources. The Bible for example contains prescriptions for moral behavior and universal truths that are common to many other non-Christian religious cultures, and provided the principles on which America was founded. If what someone is claiming to be true is branded a falsehood in the Bible, it probably is.
- Can a proposition be both right, and wrong at the same time, in the same context and time? No. The truth is “non-contradictory”, such that a cat is not both a cat and a dog, nor is a male both a male and a female. Under age drinking is not both healthy and unhealthy simultaneously. When only you kids are home and candy wrappers appear on the floor, all three of you claiming “Not Me!” is a contradiction of an obvious truth. One of you dropped candy wrappers on the floor. If someone claims that something is good and right, make an effort to consider situations in which that claim is also bad or wrong. Should you succeed, you’ve likely discovered a falsehood.
- Is the proposition useful in helping you to make decisions that lead to success? Statements of truth reveal realities of physical, mental, moral, and theological questions, very much like testing a scientific hypothesis. Will decision A or B produce better results? You can know that plagiarism or copying homework is not OK, since the Bible says, “Thou shalt not steal”. Being aware of the effects of hypothermia should cause you to venture into the cold suitably clothed. Not all truths are positive, nor do they guarantee happiness. I’m certain that nobody enjoys learning they have cancer, but knowing that fact allows them to make appropriate decisions in response.
Beware of arguments from people with statements about truth that contradict your findings from having done the above steps. Those who claim that truth is relative, where their statements contradict those you trust from objective evidence, may be using “relativity” to defend immoral positions and falsehoods. Some friends may encourage you to do what feels good. Advertisers will try to get your money, but care little for your soul, twisting the truth to influence your decisions. Some things may appear to be truths, but are actually opinions or preferences (it’s true that we need food to survive, but I prefer steak). The world will eat you for breakfast, and move on like it was nothing. Always remember that your behavior may have moral or legal consequences that negatively impact the remainder of life, separating you from freedom, diminishing your health, or isolating you in society.
Always remember this truth…your parents love you, and only want the best for your happiness,