We’re taught in school that if we don’t know the meaning of a word we should break it down and try to find its root as well as any prefix or suffix. When this was applied we discovered, for example, that the word “cycle,” when adding a prefix of uni, bi, or tri will dictate the number of wheels. So a unicycle has one wheel, bicycle has two, tricycle has three. This principle can be applied to hundreds of other words in the English language as well. We learned that “oct” means eight so an octopus has eight legs, an octagon eight sides, and October is the eighth month. Wait! No it isn’t, it’s the tenth. The basic rules of word structure don’t apply in this case. Ergo, what should be isn’t always what it is. Reality can test the boundaries of fact versus truth. Fact: October has the prefix meaning eight….The truth: It’s the tenth month.

How does the idea of fact versus truth apply to human behavior? Let’s consider the popularity of such reality television shows such as Catfish as a testimony to the fact that people will hide the truth of who they are. Online dating sites are fraught with misrepresentations of a person’s traits and character, even the fact that an individual posting a desire to meet someone may already be in a committed relationship.

Magicians and illusionists are successful because of the art of deception. With the slight of a hand or trick of the eye, a master in this craft can lead an audience to believe the unbelievable. Reputation of the magician thrives on the ability to deceive, the very trait that is considered tantamount to lying, thievery, and the like. Deception, chicanery, and misrepresentation is as common as the common cold. We hear of husbands leading double lives, teenagers engaging in risky behaviors, and coworkers involved in wrongdoing. Often it takes a tragic event for the truth to come out and the shock waves are felt for years. Recall the news story of a “doting” mother of three who had consumed an enormous amount of alcohol and marijuana before getting into her van with four children and ultimately driving the wrong way on the NYS Thruway resulting in fatalities that were unnecessary, preventable, and unfathomable. After the toxicology report was released, those that knew this mother were shocked because they couldn’t reconcile the scientific results with the woman they knew and loved. This mother, like so many others, put on an amazing front and successfully hid a side to herself that was dark and damaged, proving that things weren’t truly as they seemed.

These examples are extreme but the undercurrent is the same. Don’t accept everything at face value. A common phrase is, “if it seems too good to be true it probably is.” Find a balance, though, in keeping our guard up but not necessarily an emotional wall.

Embrace all that the month of October has to offer. It’s fitting that its last day is a holiday that embraces masks and altered egos for it serves as a reminder that things aren’t always as they seem.