True

I would be true, for there are those who trust me.

This quotation is the first line of a 1905 poem written by Harold Arnold Walter as a Christmas present for his mother. It is just happenstance that I came across it recently in an old hymnal, but it seems to be a nice coincidence that I can use the poem as the source of a new web log series at this time of the year given the poem’s Christmas origin.

Its primary appeal, to me at least, is its essential theme about one’s personal character. Walter, a man of three first names, appears to have given the concept a great deal of thought and felt compelled to commit his conclusions to verse. Each of his composition’s twelve lines identifies a distinct character trait he felt worth cultivating. Each line also provides a concise reason for why this was so.

We see the relationship between trait and motivation in his opening line. Being true is significant as there are those who trust him. His mother, the recipient of the poem, would be an obvious case in point. Likely there were others, but it is easy to speculate that she was foremost on his mind and thereby representative of a hierarchy of concern by which we each function. Moms, parents, family, friends, colleagues possess an inherent power of influence that can span both time and space. Walter was literally on the other side of the world when he wrote his poem, being a teacher at the Wasada University in Japan. Distance had little meaning to him in terms of how he structured his behavior. For those of us of an advanced age, time has just as little meaning as we continue to mold our own behavior in conformity to what we know our deceased loved ones would approve.

Being true because there are those who trust us is a premise to which we can easily express our consent without giving it much thought since it evokes an altruistic sensation within us we can appreciate if not actually define or develop in practice. So it begs the question, what does it mean to be true?

We think of the word true as being about facts. It lends itself to an easy construct for an examination as in the presentation of a test question being either true or false. Just check the box for one or the other, no essay required, which means little thinking needed beyond one’s intellectual prowess for recall. This type of knowledge (or expert guessing) is not to be confused with the gift of wisdom, which requires insight and leads to application. You can personally be false and still know that a fact is true.

With a little bit of on-line research, I discovered that the words true and tree share the same root (pun unavoidable). Just as a tree stands firm and upright, so a person’s character shares those same attributes if they are true, as in plumb. True is not an answer to a quiz-show or college exam. It is a condition, hopefully of permanence during the span of a person’s life and legacy. Honest? Yes! Trustworthy? Yes! Dependable? Yes! Even when we are on the far side of the world or this side of the grave from those whose reliance on us spans every barrier providing us license to behave otherwise.

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