Life in Poland

The Truth

“The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”

You’ve heard that one, right?

My students often ask why in English we say the truth but a lie? I always explain that there is one truth but many possible lies. My students always disagree.

Their explanation – Yes, there is the truth, but there is also the gospel truth and let’s not forget the “shit” truth which is the Polish translation of bullshit.

prawda –the truth

święta prawda – the gospel truth

gówno prawda – bullshit

Speaking of the truth or something like that…

I have a fresh Duży Format all for me. And so begins my DF weekly ritual. First, I scan the front page headlines. Then I flip through the pages making a mental note of what I want to read first. I glance through the felietony (columns) and then take a peek at the last page zdarzyło się dzisiaj (it happened this day). If I have time to start reading, I do. If not, I hide the paper from Rosie who likes to cut (or cut–ać as she says) every newspaper, magazine, electric bill in sight, until I have more time to concentrate on what I am reading. Then I start with Kajet konesara, the column of Krzysztof Varga. This week’s column is entitled “Cała prawda o prawdzie” (The whole truth about the truth) and discusses how we desire truth and are sometimes so blinded by this desire that we believe everything, even quite obvious falsehoods. Varga gives the example of a “documentary” or shall we say “mockumentary” made by Joaquin Phoenix. The film “I’m Still Here” appeared to show the downfall of Phoenix mentally, physically and in his career, except it was fake. A commentary on television/filmmaking today? On our naiveté? On both? Perhaps.

Vargas says, “Phoenix i Affleck dokonali rzeczy zupełnie zwykłej, ale nie wiedzieć czemu coraz rzadziej podnoszonej – udowodnili, że za pomocą filmu i telewizji można oszukać dokładnie każdego, nawet robiąc tak masywnymi nićmi szyte oszustwo.” DF 22 Wreśnia 2001

Translation mine 😉 “Phoenix and Affleck have pulled off something quite ordinary, but who knows why so seldom attempted – They have proven that through film and television it is possible to fool just about anyone, even weaving such deceit with the thickest thread.”

Varga’s column made me think of another documentary I watched this week. “Game of Death”, a French documentary in which people participated in a fake pilot game show where they agreed to administer electric shocks to the other “contestant”. Luckily, the other contestant was only an actor and the “shocks” were not real. It was surprising to me and to the researchers conducting the experiment how many participants were willing to see the “show” through. The contestants believed that they were helping to fine tune a new game show and were aware that they would not actually win anything. So why did they go on? Obedience and authority?

posłuszeństwo – obedience

I am as obedient as the next guy. Ok, I live in Poland so maybe we should say I am more obedient than the next guy, but come on, at one point in the show the “contestant/actor” begged for mercy and the contestants kept going. 80% of the contestants kept going in fact.

Disobedience isn’t my middle name and I’m no Lisbeth Salander but how could the people continue and how could the audience sit without protesting? Obedience of authority plus the power of TV?

We’ve already started to teach our children to be obedient (well, obedient-ish), but at the same time to question authority. It means that I get a bit more back-talk than other moms, but so be it, at least it is smart back-talk. It all started when I was watching the news with Lizzie about 2 years ago after she had just started pre-school. They were showing footage captured from a camera inside a Polish pre-school. The footage showed the principal of the school walking down the hall holding 2 kids by the hand. One kid did not want to walk for some reason, but the principal continued on and dragged the child down the hall. Lizzie was in shock. I was less in shock having performed a similar act with Lizzie dragging her from couch to bathtub during her favorite bajka. This footage opened up a dialogue between us and we were able to discuss (at age 3 1/2) that it was wrong for the principal to do that, that she should have tried another way and that teachers, principals, moms, dads and adults aren’t always right and don’t always tell the truth.

It is good even for us adults to remind ourselves that authority, television, journalists, our doctor, our boss, our parents, other adults are not always right and do not always tell the truth. I recently read an article about FOX News watchers. A large percent of the audience of FOX News believe that President Obama is not a US citizen. These are the same people who believe President Bush found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That frightens me.

Last week there was a nice documentary about Władysław Bartoszewski on Planete. He talks about his life story but also about the paralyzing power of fear. He also discusses obedience and disobedience -at one point commenting that when everyone was saying ‘someone should do something’ he thought to himself ‘why not me?’ Exactly, why not me?

We try to follow the ‘why not me’ philosophy too, although we have never been challenged in the way Mr. Bartoszewski and his generation were challenged. I remember when we witnessed some guys breaking into a car. Misiu took off after them and I called the police. Nothing had been stolen yet, but the passenger-side window had been smashed. The police asked if it was my car to which I replied that it wasn’t. The police asked if I was hurt in any way to which I replied that I wasn’t. Then the police asked what I wanted them to do. I replied that I wanted them to come and secure the car and find the owners. I heard an exasperated sigh and an “ok, we’ll send somebody”. Once Misiu even tried to help a lady who was being accosted on the train, but it turned out that she didn’t want any help. The man accosting her was her husband. He was trying to give her money which she didn’t want to take so he was trying to slip the money into her bra. What a ruckus she was making!

I don’t have any pithy ending to my post about the truth, so I will leave you with a quote supporting my students’ assertion that there are many truths.

Say not, ‘I have found the truth,’ but rather, ‘I have found a truth.’

Khalil Gibran


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  • Reply
    September 27, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    About the truth and the previous post:I was told the houses like yours and my Mom's (3 rooms downstairs, exactly) were built in the 1930s (Hitler era) along the main exit roads from cities, towns and villages on the areas belonging to Germany then.And they were given to people sympathising with a communists – give somebody who owns nothing (and pretends to be a communist) a small house, a piece of land and a barn with a pig and a cow, this turns them into owners. And if you own something, you become resistant to communist bullshit.Not sure if that's the truth, though.

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    September 28, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    czar- I would like to ask somebody about that idea, but who…a history professor I suppose…I will find out!Our house is from that time period -(1935) too, complete with a barn. What does (or did) your Mom have upstairs? Our upstairs had a funny, little room built right smack in the center of the upstairs and a fish/meat smoking cupboard next to the chimney. We destroyed everything (except for the stairs) and built it all again.

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    September 28, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    My Mom's has 2 rooms upstairs, and some open space. But seen our neighbours' houses (there are 12 in total at this end of the village and it's called Zydlongi = Siedlung/in German means \”osiedle\”) and it could be anything from open space with a chimney in the middle to 1-2 rooms. Some of them had this smoking cupboard, too.Think Mum's was built in 1933, but not 100% sure.The older villagers kept repeating that at the time of these houses' construction, many local farmers done major repairs to their houses/farm buildings stealing cement, etc. from the construction site.Could have been the case – on our walls there was definitely more sand than anything else ;)And the ceiling between upstairs rooms and the loft was constructed in quite unusual way – planks and reed on the top, as insulation.

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    October 2, 2011 at 7:38 am

    We had the reeds too between the ceiling and floor and in the walls between the plaster and bricks. I'm sure you can imagine the mess, dust and smell when we cleaned it all out. We also found a couple of dead mice and more than 100 empty bottles of spirits…officially used in the smoking process, unofficially used to pickle the previous owner of our house.

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    October 2, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Even don't remind me, please…One of the renovations my Mum had ordered just before my wedding – we finished wallpapering the night before, totally knackered.And left a former vestibule – my parents added the ground floor extension in the front of the house, which left this vestibule called \”winda\” by my little sister in between the old and the new parts – unfinished, as nobody was bothered any more.Mum eventually admitted her idea being totally crazy, but before nobody had been assertive enough to oppose her.Can email you few pics of Mum's if you are interested, but would need your mail – mine is

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