Bag of lies

By Mathias Maurer, March 2020

Do you know the story of the man who gathered up all the lies and put them in a sack so that people only ever told one another the truth from then on? People’s life together became so loveless, hard and unbearable that the man quickly opened the sack and let the lies go again.

For is it a lie to tell children fairy tales? Is it an untruth when a child speaks about the angel who appeared to them in a dream? Is it a lie when we say the sun is rising? If we were in possession of the one truth we could not do anything other than follow it unconditionally – and would no longer be free. But we do not experience freedom in the iron grip of truth but only if there is also the possibility of acting wrongly. Even the most logical of laws, the most rational of judgements can be wrong, and thus a lie, if time, place and circumstances so dictate. Just consider the “ethical problems” of self-driving cars. Equally, the best educational recipes can go wrong in the classroom. The reason: absolute truth fails in the face of life.

“We have to be able to stand back from the idea as we experience it, otherwise we are subjugated to it,” Rudolf Steiner wrote in the Philosophy of Freedom, and the same applies to the idea of truth. And “experience” means: examine truth for its goodness and beauty because it is not something that can be thought of as independent of human beings and the world. Steiner even refers to a sense of truth which is fed by a sense of what is living.

In a lecture on 31 July 1916, he explains further: “If truth enters us completely unconsciously, it is finished and then we simply say with ordinary logic: this is true, this is untrue. Then we have much less of a feeling of responsibility towards the truth than if we know that the truth is basically just as dependent on deep-seated feelings of sympathy and antipathy as morality and beauty so that we have a certain free relationship with the truth.”

It is not, therefore, a matter of sticking everything that is wrong and untrue into a sack of lies but to develop a sense for a life in truth. Children demonstrate that to us unequivocally: we cannot reach them by preaching on questions of truth, we ourselves have to love the truth. Truth – and lies – are an attitude towards life.

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