How much does the truth matter? Too little in politics.

Count me among those who were rocked by the vitriol of the presidential campaign and shocked by the outcome. I suggest one of the reasons for public dismay was an inability to believe what we heard. It appeared that putting truth behind the words mattered little to either candidate.

From the earliest days of the campaign, candidates displayed alarming disregard for the truth. This is a common complaint with every election, but the problem crescendoed this year. Each candidate accused the other of lying while simultaneously spouting falsehoods of their own.

Fact Checking the Truth in Claims

Donald J. TrumpAccording to independent fact checker Politifact, 70% of the claims made by Candidate Donald J. Trump were judged Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire false. Only 15% of claims he made were gauged True or Mostly True.

Claims made by Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, were gauged to be Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire false 26% of the time. Over half (51%) of the claims Clinton made were gauged True or Mostly True.

Hillary ClintonShould Clinton supporters feel smug because their candidate lied less than Trump? Because only a quarter of the things she said were false? No.

Would any of us accept our children lying to us a quarter of the time, let alone 70% of the time? Our spouse? A friend? A business associate?

Maybe I’m bent out of shape over nothing. Do I care that Trump lied when he said he drew bigger crowds than Beyonce and Jay Z? My inclination was to blow it off. Who cares who gets bigger crowds?

But, when Trump said at a campaign rally that President Obama “spent so much time screaming at a protester, and frankly it was a disgrace,” he flat out lied, fabricating a situation, ripping down the President, who had, in fact defended the protester. Meanwhile, Trump had himself shouted down protesters many times. That I care about.

One of the greatest strikes against Hillary Clinton was that the public believed her untrustworthy. Initially, I cut her slack about the emails. I believed what she said. Much unsubstantiated ado about nothing, I thought. When it finally became clear beyond a reasonable doubt that she lied about the emails, I was heart sick.

I should care about all lies. Because they all speak to character. Yet, I made excuses for Clinton just as others made excuses for Trump. We sank into a tar pit this year, apparently willing to accept candidates for whom lying and corruption are standard procedure.

The Impact of Lying

The results of lying are many. A damaged reputation for the speaker. Difficulty going forward, because what can you believe when someone lies about even the smallest things? A disillusioned, disheartened, apathetic, cynical public. Greater distrust in the political system as a whole.

If the candidates don’t care enough to build trust in their audiences by searching out, presenting, and sticking to the truth, how can they expect us to care about them? Yet, apparently, we did.

What can we do?

How do we climb out of the tar pit? I’m trying to figure it out. I know I need to care more at the outset. I need to vet candidates more closely. Speak up. Speak out. Because the weight of our current situation isn’t just on the candidates; it’s on all of us. We will get more of what we accept.

I want to believe what people say. I need to believe what people say. I’m desperate to believe my president. Words matter.

How did you process the ongoing, escalating falsehoods during this presidential election? How much does it bother you that candidates play so fast and loose with words and facts? What do you propose we do about it?

How real are your memories?

Research indicates our brains edit the past to accommodate present views.

Brain

When we build a new memory, we gather little bits of information and store them together, say researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Then, when we bring up an old memory, those bits of information are melded with new bits relevant to present life. The resulting “memory” may be far from the event that actually happened.

The research, shared in an article in USAToday this past weekend, makes me re-think the accuracy of memoirs.

When I wrote the stories of a happy childhood in my memoir GROWING UP COUNTRY, many of the memories were as clear in my mind as if the events had happened last week instead of fifty years ago.

Though I have no doubt my childhood was happy and I’m comfortable with that picture, another memoir I wrote but didn’t publish covers the years of my first marriage. My first marriage included plenty of happy times, but the memoir dealt with those times that were not.

When I began to write those stories, I couldn’t remember much at all. The process of pulling those memories out of the deep recesses of my mind was difficult and often painful.

I felt devastating conflict between what I remembered and the way I viewed myself. In the course of the writing and with the caring support of my writing partners, the memories – and perhaps more important – my interpretation of those memories, adapted.

According to the Northwestern researchers, the brain’s ability to edit to current circumstances may explain why we can be convinced something happened when it didn’t.

In writing about my first marriage, I came to realize that certain things that I was convinced had happened could not have. They were a logistical impossibility. Yet, I was as convinced that those stories were true as I am that my childhood was happy.

Our memories are “a record of our current view of the past,” says Donna Rose Addis of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Addis suggests the Northwestern University research has implications for understanding imagination.

I would say so! As a writer, I recognize there are many “truths.” I realize that each of us gets to tell our own story, yet I feel an obligation to be as close to factual accuracy as I can when I write memoir.

With research like this shining a light on how the brain works, I am left to wonder: are the memories I’ve had stored in the dusty corners of my mind accurate? Are the adapted memories that emerged as I wrote accurate? Or have I simply created a memory I can live with today.

What do you think my friends? How accurate can our memories be? How accurate do you believe writers need to be?

Do the facts matter?

The discussion swirling around the propensity of this year’s Oscar-nominated Best Pictures to have taken liberties with the facts has me asking: Do the facts matter? and  How much do the facts matter?

Daniel Day-Lewis as president Abraham Lincoln in "Lincoln." - 2012 Walt Disney Pictures

Daniel Day-Lewis as president Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln.” – 2012 Walt Disney Pictures

In Oscar Best Picture winner Argo, the role of Canadians in a positive outcome of the Iranian hostage crisis was underplayed and distorted, intentionally for dramatic effect.

In Lincoln, the representatives from Connecticut were portrayed as against the 13th Amendment when they actually supported it. In an otherwise remarkably accurate portrayal of events, this bit of straying from the details bothers me.

It’s fiction. I get that. But as I write my own novel, historical fiction set during WWI, I have been diligent in trying to be historically accurate. The clothes they wore. The houses they lived in. The topics they’d have discussed. I’ve been particularly mindful of being accurate with any details about the real people of the time.

I am guided by something a speaker said about including real people in a work of fiction. The question was: Can you include a real person in a story when you don’t know for a fact that the real person would have been there or done that? 

This speaker said, Yes. As long as what you have the person do does not conflict with anything commonly known. So, for instance, if you want to write the person into your scene speaking at a conference in Nevada on a day when the person was commonly known to be vacationing in Europe with her children, that’s a no.

It’s unwise, but my guess is that many people today get their view of history from movies and novels. As writers, it seems that we bear some responsibility to be accurate when we can. Even in fiction.

As a reader, part of what I look for in good historical fiction is an accurate portrayal of the place and time and people. I know that doesn’t always make for the best drama. Ben Affleck decided downplaying the Canadians in Argo made for better drama.  He distorted the facts. But the logic behind Steven Spielberg‘s choice to portray the representatives from Connecticut as against the 13th Amendment when the opposite was true – and commonly known – feels like it crossed an unnecessary line.

What do you think? Do the facts matter to you as a reader or viewer? Do the facts matter to you as a writer? How much do they matter? Where do you draw the line?