Facts vs. Truth

Khaled: That’s ridiculous. There was no encounter. You’re making stuff up.

Agent: Well of course I am. You of all people should appreciate the importance of doing that. How that might lead you, stumbling, to a truth or two. Facts aren’t the only game in town.

I’ve been thinking lately about the difference between “fact” and “truth:” two words that I’ve used interchangeably for most of my life. It might seem obvious to others, but I’ve been come to realize that there is an enormous difference between the two. A fact is indisputable because it is empirical: fire is hot, Mt. Everest is tall, mammals need oxygen. Truth, however, is something entirely different. It is far more nebulous and ephemeral; it is often based on a group or individual’s interpretation of facts and as such it can be affected by our own biases and prejudices . “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”was how America declared its independence, but that “truth” still doesn’t hold in many parts of the world.  In fact the founding fathers’ “truth” about equality certainly didn’t extend to slaves or women. That truth has evolved with our country’s ever-changing understanding of the world.

Back of the Throat deals again and again with the question of “what are the facts?” and “what is the truth?” This can be especially dangerous when people are asked to give testimony in emotionally charged situations: after a crime has occurred, for example. In college, I was out for a jog and a homeless woman pulled a knife on me while screaming and threatening me. I got away, ran straight to the police station and reported it; the police apprehended a woman immediately and then drove me by in the squad car to make an identification. I saw the woman handcuffed, I was shown the knife that they found on her and I said that, yes, they had arrested the correct woman. But the reality is that I couldn’t really remember her face or what she’d been wearing – all I remembered was the knife. And when I saw the 5” knife they had taken from her, even it seemed different – so much smaller than how I remembered it. This is a normal phenomenon for people after traumatic events occur.

And that is the world of the play. It is post 9/11 – a traumatic event that we collectively experienced and one that still colors our perceptions and memories. Characters in the play are asked to describe the actions and movements of Khaled, the protagonist, but their perceptions are seen through the prism of having survived an attack by terrorists. Khaled is a foreign-sounding name, he was born in another country and he is a very private person: all of these facts shape what is the truth for these witnesses.

It is never made clear in the play whether Khaled is guilty of anything nefarious. The audience is presented with facts and it is up the each individual to determine in the end what the truth is.