by John Borst, PP Rotary Club of Dryden, ON

It seemed the better way

When first I heard him speak

But now it’s much too late

To turn the other cheek

Sounded like the truth

Seemed the better way

Sounded like the truth

But it’s not the truth today

Leonard Cohen “It Seemed the Better Way”

from the album, You Want it Dark


Leonard Cohen in his 2016 album You Want it Dark sings his own elegy. But is it also an elegy to something bigger, namely Truth?

With the election of Donald Trump in America, Brexit in the UK, Putin’s adventures in Syria and the Crimea, Erdogan’s leadership in Turkey, Viktor Orban’s and Janos Ader’s authoritarian tendencies in Hungary, and the list could go on, the question has to be asked are we seeing the death of “Truth”.

Investigative reporter Daniel Dale documented that “Trump told at least 560 lies during the course of his campaign.”1 Writing in Canada’s Globe and Mail Sarah Kendzior of St. Louis, Mo. writes:

“Flagrant lying is a hallmark of despotism. It sends the message that one should not bother speaking truth to power when power is the only truth. It implies that the teller of the lie defines reality, no matter what evidence there is to the contrary, including the liar’s own words.”

Further, Kendzior writes, lying blurs “the distinction between political propaganda, intentional disinformation, attention-seeking click-bait, conspiracy theories, and sloppy reporting”. Regrettably, The Fourth Estate has given lying, under such political conditions, the term “fake news”,  an unfortunate term because it only confounds the problem of discerning the truth, while at the same time implying that one has it.

truth-lies500What does this uptick in lying in the public square mean for a counter-cultural organization such as Rotary, when its first principle of ethics asks “Is it the Truth?” which in the asking, implies that it should be. Is Rotary, caught in the same dichotomy as religions which encourage high levels of morality and goodness, while its adherents know they can’t or won’t live up to such ideal standards? Is there something in our very DNA that allows us to survive, even thrive, is this contradiction?

Somehow we are able to live with such contradictions in our politics; in our capitalistic business affairs, and in our love affairs.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder if this is not an opportunity for Rotary to put our principles out front and centre as a means to grow our membership? Service clubs are one of the places in America where Democrats and Republicans can still sit around the same table in fellowship. They can even talk over political issues with respect and dignity towards one another, without the rancor that one finds in the comments sections of those digital newspapers who still permit such discussion. In an era where anonymity has spawned a verbal pornography of speech, is Rotary’s Four Way Test a means by which society can reestablish some degree of social etiquette?

Every invention has its unintended consequences. The coupling of the Internet and rise of “social media” platforms has let the multiple genies of bigotry, hate speech, racism, and xenophobia out of their bottles all at the same time. Lying is the means by which truth dies and extreme views gain a following.

This isn’t just an American phenomena; it is a worldwide trend. Fortunately Rotary has, using these new tools, recently accelerated its ‘International’ism. Isn’t it an appropriate time to combine our support for the principles of the Four Way Test with our Foundation’s motto “to do Good in the World”.

As Rotary tries to steer its way through this quagmire and before the World descends into its final cataclysmic catastrophe, we ought to reflect on another set of Leonard Cohen’s elegy lyrics:

Steer your heart past the Truth you believed in yesterday

Such as Fundamental Goodness and the Wisdom of the Way

Steer your heart, precious heart, past the women whom you bought

Year by year

Month by month

Day by day

Thought by thought

Leonard Cohen “Steer Your Way” from the album You Want it Dark