Early in my high school experience, I had the joy of returning to my locker only to discover that someone had broken in and stolen not only my bag of gym clothes but a stack of three ringed binders as well containing all my homework.
Afterward, I took to carrying the full day’s notebooks, other day-to-day critical supplies in my backpack all day rather than trust the locker with anything that might affect my grades. Unfortunately, this left little room for my larger textbooks, which I would then have to load up in my arms and carry home separately as needed.
Therefore I was thrilled when it came time to study Shakespeare in my English class. My mom was (and is) a bit of a British History buff and possessed a huge volume of Shakespeare’s complete works, meaning I wouldn’t have to lug my textbook home for weeks. Oh, happy times!
The selection was Romeo and Juliet, specifically the balcony scene, and the assignment was simple; memorize the entire speech. For the next several nights, I read my mom’s book over and over, practicing the words out loud. On the day of the test, my pencil flew across my paper as I recited the lines in my head, and though I wasn’t the among the first to turn in my paper, I was fairly certain I’d aced it.
A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool. – William Shakespeare
Only when the tests were handed back, a large X crossed through a full section of my response. The words I’d used, well, they weren’t supposed to be there. Comparing my test with the others in the class, my response an entire extra paragraph and more. It was as if I had invented the lines, except, I know I am NO Shakespeare.
Flabbergasted, I took my paper home. Compared to my mom’s book, it to be a word for word copy. What in the world? I dusted off my textbook and opened it to the same scene. Sure enough, the words that I saw so clearly in black and white in one text were missing in the other. My jaw dropped as I realized my fellow students and I were being censored.
I struggled in light of this discovery with what to do. Surely my English teacher had to know the real contents of the play? He was supposed to be teaching it after all. But maybe not. Would he really accept that my version was the correct one? I’d have to admit then that I wasn’t using school approved books and the assignment had been to memorize the scene from the textbook.
In the end, I did point out to my teacher that my version was from another source, but didn’t challenge the grade further when my teacher didn’t immediately whip out his grade book in light of this evidence. It was okay, I told myself. It wasn’t like I was in any jeopardy failing the course over a few missed points.
Later, once we’d finished the section, our teacher rewarded us by playing the movie. The class sat back as the lights went down while the Montagues and Capulets exchanged verbal barbs. Juliet walked out on the balcony. A girl in my class started speaking along with the actress followed by another. I bit my tongue. The movie was suddenly exponentially more interesting.
The girls in my class stopped talking. However, Juliet didn’t. Instead, lines which appeared on my test paper, but not on theirs, poured from Juliet’s mouth. A general sound of huh? went up in the room. And there it was. I was vindicated.
But still my grade remained exactly as it was.
I found myself in the midst of another quandary. I knew I had just been indisputably proven right, but the only other person who knew that was my teacher. I could push again for a grade adjustment and shame him with the video evidence backing my claim, but in doing so I would have also proven the rest of the class, those that didn’t go rogue (for the sake of convenience) and memorize forbidden uncensored text, were as wrong as our teacher was. In short, I might get an A on one test, but I would have turned the entire class, as well of as the teacher, against me in short order.
I learned a long time ago the value of picking my battles, and this wasn’t one of them. Validation (this time) simply wasn’t worth the price.
I may have abandoned an unwinnable fight, but I didn’t, however, abandon my truth. The experience, so early on in my high school career, taught me the fallacy of believing everything you read, or trusting in one single source, no matter how credible they might seem. The truth is we are all human and humans make mistakes. And humans, even those with an education, a position of authority, and/or the best of intentions, can be equally lead astray.
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” – Socrates
In the age of post-truth, it is easy to lock yourself in a bubble, surrounded by mountains of evidence that support all the reasons you know your truth to be right. So I challenge you this year to occasionally play devil’s advocate. Allow yourself to try out being wrong from time to time and see how it fits. Ask yourself, is your version of the balcony scene complete, or might there be other lines, unwritten?
While I don’t expect anyone to change their mind from the experience, I hope that by doing so you might be able to identify the gaps in your truth and become more willing to ask questions than accept a story at face value.
We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future. – George Bernard Shaw