Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Authentic Truth:

The Coca Cola Animals  Incident, And More

Oakville, California, USA

August 13, 2012



"The path to authenticity is being authentic about your inauthenticities."  ... 
"A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself as a liar." ... Mark Twain quoted by Opie Percival Read
This essay, Authentic Truth: The Coca Cola Animals  Incident, And More, is the seven hundred and fiftieth in this Conversations For Transformation internet series.

It is also the companion piece to Elephants All The Way Down.

It is also the sixth in the sextology Truth:
  1. Used By The Truth
  2. Not Truth / Truth
  3. Moment Of Truth
  4. Nobody's Doing It To You Except Yourself: A Study In Truth
  5. Tell Me The Truth
  6. Authentic Truth: The Coca Cola Animals  Incident, And More
in that order.

I am indebted to Jack Phillips who contributed material for this conversation.




My mother Andee impressed on me to speak the truth.

Actually the way she said it back then was tell  the truth. Speak  the truth is a distinction I only got twenty five years later. In raising me she impressed on me to tell the truth - by which she essentially meant not to lie.

I was five years old. We lived in a house called Lowlands  on Stellenberg Avenue in Kenilworth, a suburb of the city of Cape Town in South Africa where I grew up. One day I took some things which didn't belong to me - which means I stole  them. The Coca Cola  company was offering a collection of figurines of wild animals indigenous to South Africa. Each was about two inches tall made of white plastic, standing on its own base. I noticed they were slightly flattened - in other words, nearly one dimensional  if you will. There were lions, elephants, giraffes, kudu (or koedoe  if you prefer the Afrikaans  spelling), hippopotami, leopards, cheetahs, springbuck ... you know, they were all  there. If you collected enough Coca Cola bottle tops, you could trade them for one of the figurines, and eventually collect them all. I collected a few of them. My childhood friend collected them all - evidently his family drank more Coca Cola than we did! One day I took his entire collection. When no one was looking I stole the lot  ... just ... like ... that  ...

No one knew I took them - or so I thought. But my mother knew. I don't know how she found out. She asked me if I took them. I said no I didn't - which means I had first become a thief and then a liar in rapid succession. She asked me again if I took them. Again I said no. I lied to my mother, bold faced, twice.

She never asked me again after that. But the discomfort I felt (which, try as I might, I could not get rid of)  canceled out any enjoyment I may have had from owning (by my ill means) the entire Coca Cola animals figurine collection.

This incident is forever burned into my memory as the Coca Cola animals incident. It was when I first discovered I can't steal and lie and get away with it. It's more than that actually. It's when I first discovered that even if I do  get away with it (in the sense that no one knows or finds out), I  know - and I feel so bad because of it that it isn't worth it.

Twenty five years later I cleaned it up with my childhood friend from whom I stole the Coca Cola animals. I confessed to him I was the thief. He told me he never suspected me. He forgave me. We had a great conversation about it, about telling the truth, about how bad it feels to steal and lie, and about how you can't wash that feeling away. We celebrated with (what else?) bottles of ice cold Coca Cola.

I also cleaned it up with my mother once I had cleaned it up with my childhood friend. I confessed to her I lied to her twice. I confessed to her I did steal the Coca Cola animals. I told her I confessed to my childhood friend from whom I stole them, and he had forgiven me. She acknowledged me for coming clean after all this time. She listened without berating me. She said when I told her twice I didn't take the Coca Cola animals, she believed me, and then dropped the whole thing (isn't that how much a mother loves her child?). I shared with her how bad I felt stealing and lying about it. I told her once I started the lie by stealing the Coca Cola animals, I became so entangled in it that I couldn't back out.

It was worse than that actually. It was at five years old, I wanted to back out but I didn't know how.



How Do I Tell Thee The Truth? Let Me Count The Ways



The Coca Cola animals incident gave me (by reverse example) an insight into the value  of telling the truth - by which I essentially mean the value of not lying.

<aside>

I could also say it gave me an insight into the virtue  of telling the truth - and telling the truth is  a virtue.

But I'm much more pragmatic  than that.

That's why this conversation is about the value  of telling the truth. The virtue  of telling the truth could be a subject for another conversation on another occasion.

<un-aside>

Not lying is one of many ways of telling the truth. Like my mother impressed on me, it's arguably the most fundamental way of telling the truth. There are also other ways of telling the truth which, because they're often unexamined, at first glance may appear  to be truth telling, but on closer inspection are revealed to be opinion, conjecture, and interpretation. We confuse our opinions, conjectures, interpretations, and points of view of "the  Truth", with "the  Truth". But they're not "the  Truth"! They're merely our opinions, conjectures, interpretations, and points of view of "the  Truth". Given the machinery  of human beings, and given one of the essential devices of the machinery of human beings is to hide and deny it's machinery, there's arguably no access at all to "the  Truth" except for each of our opinions, conjectures, interpretations, and points of view of "the  Truth". And our opinions, conjectures, interpretations and points of view of "the Truth" aren't "the Truth"!

Gee! I hope you get this ...

I'm suggesting the best it gets for us human beings in regard to our quest for "the  Truth" is to craft ourselves as a clearing in which "the Truth" can show up and go to work  (as Werner Erhard may have said). And "the  Truth" does have a way of showing up and going to work anyway  - with or without my agreement, approval, or co-operation.

So I can tell  the truth (by which I mean not lie), but I can only opine "the  Truth", I can only conjecture "the  Truth" (yes "conjecture" is both a noun and  a verb), I can only interpret "the  Truth", I can have only a point of view  about "the  Truth" ... and  ... with all that said, I can craft myself as a clearing in which "the  Truth" can show up and go to work - as it surely will  anyway.

"The  Truth" showing up and going to work, as it surely will anyway, leaves me no longer concerned about "the  Truth" (or for "the  Truth" for that matter). I'm left, rather, with just two simplified bastions of truth in my life. The first one is don't lie - as per what my mother impressed on me which was verified and underlined by the Coca Cola animals incident. The second one is this: tell the authentic  truth and craft yourself as a clearing in which "the  Truth" can show up and go to work. Here I'm using the descriptor "authentic" as in Werner Erhard's context: "The path to authenticity is being authentic about your inauthenticities."



Telling The Authentic Truth: Being Authentic About My Inauthenticities



From the Cambridge International Dictionary:

<quote>
Definition
authentic


adjective
being what it is claimed to be; genuine
<unquote>

Also from the Cambridge International Dictionary:

<quote>
Definition
truth


noun
the actual fact or facts about a matter
<unquote>

The Coca Cola Animals incident set something in place foundationally  upon which other actions, choices, and decisions in my life were also built, each swayed and skewed by the shaky ground below them. I made attempts to make them work, to compensate for the unworkability  on which they were founded. And the truth is nothing I could do would ever  make them work. Any futile attempts I made to make them work have been famously described by Werner Erhard as "icing the mud pie".

But there is a way to re-set the foundation  (so to speak) when the foundation is shaky because telling the truth was only a minor consideration when it was laid down. It's this: go back and meticulously clean up each  and every  such incident with anyone and everyone involved.

That's why, as a participant in Werner's Be Here Now  seminar in September of 1978, I started a list. I started the list during the seminar, but I kept it open and kept adding to it for years. To the list I added people I had hurt, people I had wronged, people I hadn't told the truth to, people I'd been covert  with, people I had used  and manipulated  to my advantage - and that's just getting started. It was a long  list of people - nearly two hundred. And the only  qualification for adding people to the list was when I told the truth about it, the way I was with them wasn't consistent with who I say I am. In other words, the way I was with them was inauthentic.

I tracked them all down. It was quite a feat. Years and years had gone by, so many of them had moved, sometimes to other countries. I learned two of them had died, so I completed with them by declaration alone. I contacted the others through letters, postcards, phone calls, telegrams  - the era of telegrams was not yet over, the era of e-mail had not yet started. If I couldn't get in touch with them directly, a certain amount of detective work was required as I tracked them down through people who knew people who knew them. Once I found them, I told each one of them where I had been inauthentic with them. At first this was extremely hard, given the years which had elapsed. But pretty soon I realized how much people appreciate this quite unconventional approach - especially given none of them had participated in Werner's work, and so were surprised yet delighted by it.

In the end, there were three people remaining on my list whom I simply could not locate at all, so I also completed with them by declaration alone.

It's over. There's no one else. And while I may still from time to time act inauthentically (that's what we human beings do ...), now there's a very, very  short delay before I 'fess up  to where I've been inauthentic.

The foundation is now straightened out, and this is how I keep it straight, how I keep it from not becoming skewed again.



I Speak Therefore I Am



While I'm no longer concerned about or for "the  Truth", I'm committed to tell the truth ie I'm committed not to lie. I'm committed to crafting myself as a clearing in which "the  Truth" can show up and go to work as it surely will anyway. And I'm committed to speaking the authentic truth of my life which, as it turns out, only I am uniquely qualified to speak.

The Coca Cola animals figurine collection has of course by now long since disappeared into the garage sale of history where, for all I know, it was discovered by a collector who resold it for millions  of dollars (or rands  in South Africa) like original "DC"  comics or rare baseball cards.

But whatever's become of them, what I got from the brief time they were in my illicit possession was a cold, flat footed, awkward and uncomfortable look at how my mother was right, how telling the truth works, how not lying works, how "the  Truth" is really just a matter of opinion, conjecture, interpretation, and point of view (and there's really nothing wrong with any of that), how I honor "the  Truth" by crafting myself as a clearing in which "the  Truth" can show up and go to work as it surely will anyway, with or without my agreement, approval, or co-operation, and how the authentic truth of my life is something only I am uniquely qualified to speak.

And when I do speak the authentic truth of my life, it's not because I have to. Neither is it because I'm a better person  when I do. It's simply because I can.



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