Saturday, October 17, 2009

We need to own the Truth

During a recent professional training class, we talked about the importance of owning the truth. In my field "owning the truth" means being proactive in dealing with problems. Yes, our software has issues. No software is perfect. But we must identify them first, before the client does. When we identify them we point them out to the client honestly and openly. Then we work on the solution. We keep the client updated on our progress. But the point is that we own the truth. We define it the way we want it defined. We don't want the defects in our product being whispered around because then our reputation is subject to rumor and misinformation. If we don't boldly tell the truth then the only story that gets told might be the lie.

So where am I going with this? What has it to do with Church history?

Last year a book was released about a shameful episode in Mormon History.I won't name it here, since I don't really want to discuss the specifics of that case. What I was impressed with was the effort to own the truth. Employees of the Church Historical Department made the effort to define the conversation, and to define it using verifiable facts. To control how people talk about you, you must do both.

Simply defining the conversation is not enough. We call that propaganda or spin. That would be easily debunked and actually harms our reputation in many cases.

Just stating the facts is not enough either. Facts are in and of themselves pretty boring (to most people). We can open the Church History Library to all the scholars in the world (and to troops of gum chewing, flip flop shod, Beehives if we want). But if we are not answering the question "so what?", then others will write our history and tell us what it means

I started writing about the Cane Creek Massacre because the primary source on the Web was not "ours." The most commonly accessed version of the Massacre was written by a man who really believed that the missionaries were guilty of vile misconduct, even though the evidence did not support that conclusion. So I did the research and wrote about what I found. At the time I didn't have a name for what I was doing. Now I know.


Ardis Parshall said...

Thank you, Bruce.

I naturally gravitate toward the upbeat, telling stories that say "hey, aren't we a great people and don't we have an awesome history?!" That's probably not enough, though, for the reasons you outline so clearly. (It's not like I totally avoid the dark and the controversial; I've tackled several -- the Tobin ambush, the prostitution of BY's foster daughter -- and been as candid as I could, but that's not my natural territory.)

Brigham Young had a label for ignoring, being totally silent about, false accusations. He called it "letting them severely alone." In some circumstances that is probably better than fruitless arguments and blown tempers -- but as you note, that leaves the opposition telling our story, framing the questions, deciding what matters and what doesn't. And that just isn't wise.


BruceCrow said...

I like that expression; "letting them severely alone." It bring to mind another aspect of this. One I had not thought of before. Responding to the false accusations lends them credibility. Better to just ignore them. But ignoring false accusations does not mean being silent.

Anonymous said...

Good for you, Bruce. Glad you are motivated enough to try and tell the facts in the way you feel they matter. I like this idea, "owning" the truth. Thanks.


S.Faux said...

Great thoughts.

Maybe I am going to far, but I think "owning the truth" also applies to our evolutionary history. I suppose this is why I write about Church history and also evolutionary history. Who knows?

Jack Mormon said...

Bruce - your point about taking "ownership" is spot on. Case in point: Recent stories about the Church operating private hunting preserves have been "owned" by skeptics and anti-Mormons. So I posted a more factual story about this issue on Mormonism-Unveiled so that the blogosphere would not be exclusively populated with anti-Mormon stories about this issue.

BruceCrow said...

Thanks for stopping by. It is good to know you two are owning a part of the truth.

I don't expect our Church leaders to be experts on evolutionary history any more than I expect them to be experts on Church history or even wildlife management.

OK maybe they need to know something about Church history, or at least hire someone who does. But they already do that.