Last week it came out that the events in Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea did not quiet happen as described. A massive amount of pixels and bandwidth have already been used to comment on this, so I’m not going to talk about the book. A truthful aside: I did actually write a post about this very subject. Thankfully a good friend saved us all from such a missive. There was some good stuff there and hopefully it will find its way into this post.
This isn’t the first time its come out that an author “sexed” up their story in hopes of selling more books, or getting more money for such and such organization. Remember James Frey? The guy who paid for his sins against the non-fiction gods by having to fess up to his lies to Oprah. I consider that debt paid in full, but that’s just me. I’ll leave any comments on the actual situation (and not the level I’m going to touch on) at this. Mortenson’s lie (to me) is a much more insidious one. If you’d like to read more I can recommend Jon Krakauer’s excellent little book on his research into this fraud can be found on byliner.com
What I want to cover here is the idea that there are levels of truth. I know at first glance this seems like I’m saying its ok to passively lie. In other words, leaving something out. I’m not saying that. What I am saying is this.
As soon as an event takes place all witnesses to said event begin to remember it differently. The way we view a set of events is seen through the filter of our personalities. We add, or rather accentuate certain events based on our own bias. This is unavoidable. You can test this by checking several eye witnesses to any event. Our stories also change as time moves on and how we remember even the events of our own lives changes. The only way to mine down to the truth of any event is to take the word of all the people involved and rebuild the story. The truth exist in degrees.
We all do this and its the job of storytellers to do their best to guard against this. I do my best. Yes I have lied before, I’m not proud of it. How many times have I told a story, only to realize that I missed something, or misplaced the events. I don’t know how many! How many times have you done that?
I’m bumping up against this now with a project I’m working on. As I continue to work on this project I’ll have to turn to the people involved in the events. I have my memory and my journals, but that’s it, and its a bit flawed. This is just the way it is. When I write, I do my best to tell the story the way I experienced it, while at the same time acknowledging that my equipment is a bit faulty. The best we can do is take great pains to check our own facts.