The Loneliness of ‘Live Your Truth’

By Tom Gilson Published on April 10, 2024

I can almost see the attraction of it: “You be you.” “Your identity, your choice.” “Live your truth.” There is incredible freedom in defining your own identity, your own moral choices. Your reality is nothing but what you choose it to be, especially your gender. You are king of your domain, god of your own reality.

You are also the only living inhabitant on that planet. It must be lonely there.

Last year the U.S. surgeon general released an alarming report titled “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation.” It’s riddled with obvious oversights and errors, but it’s still true that we are a terribly lonely society. How can that be any surprise? We are a terribly individualistic society. That is exactly what “you be you” and all the other mottoes urge us to be.

The Age of the Individual

In The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (that is, the modern individual self), Carl Trueman wrote, “For the individual to be king, society must recognize the supreme value of the individual.” Our world’s chief value, he says, is “expressive individualism.”

This is the age of the individual. I think a visitor from another age would say, “This must also be the age of aloneness.”

In former days, says Trueman, “intellectuals and institutions such as universities were the conduits for the transmission and preservation of culture.” Now, however, the intellectuals are “devoted to the opposite — to the subversion, destabilization, and destruction of the culture’s traditions.”

Traditions unite us. Shared stories and shared experiences bring people together. Shared memories of conflict may mean memories of pain, but at least they are shared. And if these memories are seriously different, as for example they tend to be for black and white people in America, there is still the opportunity to work together toward reconciliation.

Lonely “Together”

Human loneliness traces all the way back to the Fall, detailed in Genesis 3. More recently we’ve practically made a virtue of it, a virtue called “tolerance.” This version of “tolerance” was sold to us as the way to draw people together, but the best it could produce was superficial conformity. If that outward conformity seeped inward, then that person was longer his own person at all, and failing to be one’s own person is the worst failure of them all. (Watch any recent Disney movie if you doubt it.)

To the extent that anyone was able to protect their inner selves from conforming, and therefore able to maintain opinions of their own, they still had a duty to keep hidden anything that might be seen as “intolerant.” Hiding is a guaranteed route to loneliness.

This is the age of the individual. I think a visitor from another age would say, “This must also be the age of aloneness.”

The famous bumper sticker teaches us to “Coexist.” This, too, is a sham. At best it means sharing the same space without friction, but what could that possibly entail? Ice is pretty much frictionless. It’s also cold. I doubt that’s the metaphor the bumper-sticker evangelists want us clinging to. A perfect ball bearing rolling on a perfectly smooth surface may experience very little friction, but perfection isn’t much of a model for humans’ getting along.

There are only two fully effective ways for imperfect humans to live friction-free among other imperfect humans: By avoiding all interaction, or by not caring. There’s no getting around it: Bumper-sticker “coexistence” means loneliness.

Lonelier Apart

Both “tolerance” and “coexistence” fail to draw people together, but at least they claim that as their purpose. “Expressive individualism” doesn’t even try.

We live in days of post-reality. Humans (in Western culture, at least) formerly sought to discover and understand reality. We searched it out together, studied it together, and as best we understood it, shared it together. That included everything from scientific realities to moral realities, to (among like-minded communities at least) religious realities.

Now the mood is to create reality where we can create it – inside ourselves, that is – and live in it there by ourselves.

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So if I say, “I am a woman,” I might demand that others affirm that statement in the pronouns they use for me, the name by which they address me, the private places they let me enter, and so on. But they can only affirm it from outside. If I say, “I really am a woman, because that’s who I really am in my mind,” it’s in my mind that I find it to be “real.”

Thus, even if trans ideology were right, and this womanhood were somehow real there (it can’t be, of course), it could only be real there, in my mind. I could ask you to affirm my mind’s “reality,” but I couldn’t possibly expect you to share in it. How could I? You don’t live there.

The Opportunity This Offers

Our culture exalts the individual practically to the point of godhood, but we are neither gods nor are we qualified for the position. God in Heaven is a Trinity, three Persons in One, living in love in Himself. If we on earth play god, we play alone. The surgeon general’s statistics on loneliness are one sign of how well that’s working: Not one bit.

For those who know the true God, this must appear as a tragedy. At the same time, it gives us opportunity to help. Just as the hungry need food, the lonely need relationships. In our day that probably also means they need help and guidance toward reentering reality.

So it might just be that when you see someone playing god, perhaps with their gender, or their moral beliefs, or whatever it may be, the right response might not be to point out how wrong it is. The better response might be to find out how they’re doing with it.

Chances are, even if they feel king of their world, they feel lonely there. They might be more grateful than you’d expect to learn about the real King of the real world, and experience His real love.


Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.

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