Originally written in TACKED THOUGHTS for The Freeman
by Nancy Unchuan Toledo
I can honestly claim that I once won third place in a judo competition. And if you knew me at all, and knew how much effort I put into avoiding any type of physical or sporting activity, you would not believe me. But there it is.
What you do not know, however, was that I so skinny, my weight qualified me to be in a division where the girls were a lot shorter than I was. Moreover, there were only four people registered in that competition. And the fourth person backed out. So I won by default. Now do you believe me?
These days when the rate of information seems to grow exponentially overnight, it can be quite easy to confuse information with the truth. We read a little bit here and a little bit there, a tweet here and a Facebook status there and without us realizing it we’ve passed on the tiny tidbit of information as gospel truth. I do not mean to say that people should not be believed or that what they say or write or publish are lies. What I’m saying is, although what they write might be accurate, they do not necessarily convey the truth.
The truth implies that what is said or written is not taken out of context. And that what is, can withstand the test of time. The truth is not about little tidbits of information and factoids but about the big picture, the one that you see only when you are farther away and can distinctly recognize one shape from another.
When I was younger, I thought that if I read enough books and saw enough documentaries, I would know everything. And I actually found out a lot of (useless but interesting) facts: a crocodile’s stomach is as big as a basketball, giraffes give birth standing up and picky eaters are more sensitive to smell than non-picky eaters. Pretty helpful in small talk but the information hasn’t really made a difference in the way I live my life. And come to think of it, neither has any of those come in handy in those awkward moments of silence with someone I’ve just met.
It would be tempting to just lump all kinds of information into the useless pile but that’s not helpful either. On its own, information does not give me the truth—but it can lead me there.Stare at only one puzzle piece at a time and the truth becomes narrow, limited.But put enough information together and the big picture becomes clearer, easier to understand.
The longer I teach the more I realize that I ought to be able to help my students make sense of the pieces of the puzzle so that the big picture becomes distinct. My job is not merely to give information but to lead my students to the truth. While that task seems daunting, it is also what makes teaching so interesting. And besides, challenges don’t scare me. I did, after all, win third place in a judo competition.