Are you a liar or a truth-teller?

Photo: Are you a liar or a truth-teller?

A few years ago, I found myself standing amidst a crowd of people, fervently chanting prayers, weeping uncontrollably, and reverently laying flowers. In the center of the room lay a large, flat stone, carefully encased in glass.

I was in the Old City of Jerusalem, visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We were observing the Stone of Anointing, a piece of slate believed to have been the surface upon which Jesus Christ's body was laid after being taken down from the cross 2,000 years ago.

Millions of people make a pilgrimage to this site every year. For many, it is a life-defining experience. As a passionate student of history, I was called to this storied place.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands on the hill where it is believed Jesus Christ was crucified and buried. As we approached the church, we walked the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus is thought to have carried his cross.

The Via Dolorosa features 14 historical monuments, each marking a significant event in Jesus' journey, known as the 14 Stations of the Cross. We stopped at each station. We learned, and touched the stone where Christ was said to have rested his hand.

The Old City of Jerusalem is a place of powerful energy, with vibrant Christian, Jewish, and Muslim quarters sharing sacred spaces. Historical dates and locations often bring religions together; interpretations of events and characters pull them apart.

Remarkably, all of the commemorative sites I visited—the Via Dolorosa, its 14 stations, the hill of the crucifixion, the Stone of Anointing, and the tomb where Christ was laid—were identified by Helena Augusta in 326 AD, nearly three centuries after Christ's death. Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, who ruled the Roman Empire from 307 to 335, played a crucial role in her son's quest to spread Christianity throughout the empire. Whether her discoveries were divinely inspired or opportunistic coincidences remains a matter of debate.

Walking the Via Dolorosa, I was not preoccupied by the motives of Helena. Instead, I was struck by the coexistence of three great religions, each sharing so much of their history yet diverging in their beliefs and practices.

I passed through Muslim, Jewish, and Christian streets, each teeming with devout followers, all of whom were convinced of the truth of their faith—even if that truth was different just a few streets away.

We author our life stories, and these stories create our world. If I believe you to be truthful, then a story exists in which you are, indeed, truthful. In my world, you have been cast in that role; your thoughts on the matter are irrelevant.

However, others may perceive you as a liar. Thus, while a world exists in which you are truthful, another world exists in which you are deceitful.

You exist in both worlds. So, are you a liar or a truth-teller?

The interpretations of our friends and enemies are just that—interpretations of our words, actions, and perceived intentions. Language can be endlessly confusing. When I speak to you, three conversations are occurring:

My intended communication

The words I choose

The message you receive

I think what I mean, but I say what I say. You hear what I say, and you think what I mean.

No wonder we so often misunderstand each other...

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