Hammers, fists, anvils. Feathers, smiles, candles.

Whichever metaphor suits you, the key to our collective future is the pursuit of truth.

Philosophers, poets and marketers often use metaphors to define truth.

For some, the truth is literally hard.

The autobiography of 18th-century American investigative journalist James Callender — who uncovered Thomas Jefferson’s fathering of children birthed by slave Sally Hemings — is called “The Hammer of Truth.”

The National Rifle Association’s recent video advertising campaign promises to use “the clenched fist of truth” to combat what it sees as the “violence of lies” coming from mainstream journalistic media.

Even the world’s most famous pacifist used a hard metaphor for truth. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation, wrote: “Use truth as your anvil, nonviolence as your hammer.”

For others, the truth is soft.

Maat was the Egyptian goddess of truth; she held an ostrich feather, referred to as the “feather of truth.” If, at the end of one’s life, your soul’s heart was heavier than the feather, your soul was thrown to the floor in the Hall of Truth and devoured by crocodiles. If it was as light as the feather, you were to be admitted to the Field of Reeds, home to a blissful afterlife.

English writer John Fowles, in his 1965 novel “The Magus,” wrote, “That is the truth. Not the hammer and sickle. Not the stars and stripes. Not the cross. Not the sun. Not gold. Not yin and yang. But the smile.

Of course, one of the oldest metaphors for truth is light, represented by the sun. In Plato’s Analogy of the Sun in “The Republic,” Socrates argues that the light of truth illuminates the unintelligible, much as the sun uncovers what we can’t see otherwise on earth.

Quill and Scroll’s symbolic candle draws from those softer metaphors. And its use in our induction ceremony underscores the softness of our mission:

“Tonight I light the candle of truth symbolic in our aims and aspirations for the world in which we live and that finer world of tomorrow toward which we strive.”

Most Quill and Scroll chapters will use candles this spring as they induct new members into our 92-year-old honor society. They will also read those words as a part of that induction. But how many of those inductees will remember those words and their value as they progress through their lives. We honor journalistic excellence, but we also hope to be just a small part of a movement that restores — in the words of our constitution — “domestic tranquility” to our civil discourse. And that begins with the search for truth.

We know that most high school journalists will not pursue a major in journalism when they go to college. High school journalists, as we know, are generally more engaged, more academically successful and more ambitious than their peers. And while those of us in the profession would like all the best and brightest to join us, we know that other, often greater opportunities arise.

But Quill and Scroll’s ideals should be a part of any profession. Again, from the induction ceremony:

“I light the light of truth, which signifies sincerity in character, action and speech. It should serve as a guiding light to which all the world may turn.”

  • Will you be a doctor? I hope that your diagnoses depend on your best knowledge of what’s true in medicine, and not on what might make your hospital or a pharmaceutical company the most money.
  • Will you be a scientist? I hope that you start with a hypothesis and work toward a conclusion, and not the other way around. If you’re asked to do the opposite, refuse and move on.
  • Will you work in public relations? I hope that you represent your clients by convincing them that truth is the best way to deal with a crisis, and that you don’t allow name-calling, half-truths and lies to be the basis for any campaign you create.
  • Will you be a politician or public servant? I hope that you understand that there is no truth in partisanship and that public service is not a zero-sum game in which you seek power over principle.

Of course, the Quill and Scroll induction ceremony includes seven other lights, all of which help us in our quest for truth: Learning, Leadership, Loyalty, Initiative, Integrity, Judgment and Friendship.

Keep these in mind as you either watch or are a part of an induction ceremony this year. And no matter your affinity for metaphors — hard or soft — know that truth is at the heart of our survival as a people. I’ll leave you with one last thought, this again from Gandhi:

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won.”

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