There’s an old Russian proverb, “Trust but verify,” that was made popular by President Ronald Reagan between 1984-1987 as his administration worked toward nuclear disarmament with the Soviet Union, now known as Russia.
The story goes that he was advised that Russians liked to talk in proverbs, so it only made sense if he knew a few. “Trust but verify” became the one he gravitated to and used frequently. He knew, that despite his “good” relationship with his counterpart General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, he would need to not just take Gorbachev at his word but also verify that what was agreed upon happened and what was said was true.
Both my dad and grandfather pressed this principle into my DNA. My dad would encourage me to dig beyond headlines and soundbites as a kid growing up watching Walter Cronkite and find the facts. Not exactly easy to do — we didn’t have the internet back then (maybe that was a blessing), so I’d head to the library and read up on opposing views of Vietnam or the Watergate scandal or the Iran-Contra issues. My dad would say something like, “the truth and facts lies somewhere between those opposing views.”
My grandfather’s approach was similar, but not as kind. I remember an experience with my grandfather, sitting in his living room, sharing how my college professor suggested Beethoven was of black heritage, and my grandfather laughing, asking me if this was what I was paying for — to be misled. He then proceeded to pull out the encyclopedia and two other history books and march me over to the dining room table and had me “read up” on what was written about Beethoven. When I was done, he asked me if I thought the composer was still of black heritage – and I said according to what I read, probably not. His response, “Don’t always believe what you read or what you are told. Do your own research.”
To this day, I’m still uncertain as to Beethoven’s heritage based on my grandfather’s response. I walked away from that experience a bit more confused. Don’t believe what I read or what I’m told? If what is written is based on the writer’s perspective, and if what I’m told is based on the speaker’s perspective, where do I find the truth…or more importantly, the facts?
It takes work. And the truth…the facts…likely takes an art to discovering.
King Solomon, King of Israel, bluffed his way to discovering the truth in which woman was the true mother of the newborn baby by rendering a judgment that he would cut the baby in two and give each one half. It was clear to Solomon that the one who didn’t oppose the ruling wasn’t the true mother.
Maybe that old saying, “Just the facts, Ma’am,” attributed to Dragnet’s Sergeant Joe Friday (even though, according to some sources, he didn’t actually utter those exact words), isn’t so easy to come by.
It’s becoming more apparent today that trust but verify has lost ground to MY truth is the truth so don’t bother with the facts — because even if you can find the facts, it’s not what I believe — and what I believe is MY truth. And if it’s MY truth, it should be your truth. This serves only the individual.
Whether it be actor Jussie Smollett, who is now suspected of orchestrating a hoax but stands behind “his truth,” or President Trump, who has a habit of overlooking facts and creating his own truth, as a community and nation, we need to be better at verifying what we read and hear.
Just because someone says it, doesn’t mean it’s true (applies to our own local politicians). Take ownership over what you read and hear. Check what committees the person has chaired or participated in, verify how he/she voted on certain issues or initiatives, pull the minutes — is what they say in alignment with what they did? Trust…and verify. When you do, I do think you’ll find comfort in verifying what you read and hear — at least you’ll be able to own your position instead of being told what your position should be.
— Mike Schindler, Edmonds