The national drama around the impeachment and trial of our last President should have given us a moment’s pause. Not only because we voted for a dishonest man for President, but also because of what it brought to light regarding our assumptions about telling the truth. Indeed, as news reporters polled public opinion, people from all over inadvertently revealed their own ideas about honesty. What has become increasingly obvious, at least to me, is that telling the truth is not a national priority. So called “legitimate” reasons for skirting or diminishing the truth are everywhere evident. “Of course he lied … he had a wife and child to protect” or, “He had to lie to keep from going to jail”… are examples of some of the justifications heard in defense of our President. It seems the truth, though widely touted, is not often practiced.
Why is it then, that we seem to be failing so miserably at getting honest? Could it be that we’re afraid of the truth? Maybe we assume we need to protect ourselves and others from it. Could it be that we believe the truth is dangerous?
Perhaps what we’re seeing is an example of the proverbial “say one thing and do another”, so often seen in families. For example, even though our parents may have verbally emphasized truth-telling, they may have also exaggerated, omitted facts and told “little white lies”. As a result, we may have made contradictory assumptions about telling the truth. Such conflictive presumptions can engender dishonesty.
One of the common suppositions is that our loved ones can’t handle the truth. We tell ourselves they are too fragile, too anxious, or even too dangerous to know our actuality. They might withdraw from, worry about, blame or judge us. So, we tell the facts in bits and pieces, and then only when it’s absolutely unavoidable.
Another widely held presumption is that if we tell the truth it puts us in a weak or vulnerable position. The other would then have the upper hand. They might use it against us. So then, it becomes crucial to protect oneself by withholding relevant information.
Besides, aren’t little white lies inevitable? I mean, people won’t like us if we tell the truth, right? You know, like when you tell someone you like their new haircut, when what you really think is that it makes them look fat. We have come to think of such “harmless” deception as necessary social graces. Lying has become an integral part of the American way of life! As a matter of fact, fabrication can become such a habit that we may find ourselves lying when the truth would have been much easier!
How did this happen? How often do we read between the lines rather than trust what is actually being said? Why should we expect anyone else to tell the truth? We don’t! We rarely know where we stand with people because we can’t count on them to level with us. Why it’s even considered rude or uncouth to tell the truth! How did we get here?
Pause a moment and consider how many half truths or outright untruths you’ve told today. As you think back over your day, notice the immediate tendency to justify, even to yourself, why the lie was necessary. What does your justification signify to you regarding your beliefs about telling the truth? Intersting, isn’t it, the way we can put a lie to rest through rationale. What do we do about it?
It seems to me that the foundation for truth has to be built first. Some essentials have to be in place before we can begin to get around to the truth. These necessary ingredients are self-awareness and responsibility. Actually, they are parts of the same. As we take responsibility, we grow in self awareness. Without these elements, honesty is impossible.
Taking responsibility means that that index finger you’re so tempted to level at others must point home first! There can be no room for blame, because being responsible means understanding that we each play a part in the circumstances in our life. We have to get honest with ourselves. We have to ask some hard questions and then be willing to face the answers.
Owning my truth out loud comes only after I’ve taken the responsibility to investigate myself. If I don’t know what I think or feel … if I’m simply reacting, then I can’t tell the truth, because I don’t know it! We can only speak truth from what we, as individuals, hear, see, feel, think or do. And this requires at least a cursory knowledge of one’s own thoughts, beliefs and reactions to life. We have to know ourselves!
Rather than presume, let’s take a moment to define the word “truth”. The American Heritage Dictionary states simply that the truth is “… conformity to fact or actuality”, or … “a statement proven to be, or accepted as, true”. Unfortunately this narrow definition leaves a lot to be desired. What is the truth? Sad to say, most of us don’t even know! For it is rarely the hard and fast, black or white reality we like to think it is.
Yes, there is what is called “cash-register” honesty. “I go to the local university”, or “I have two dollars in my pocket”. These are examples of a definite, finite truth. But, much beyond that we find that truth is a highly personal and subjective reality.
For it is very difficult to tell the truth about anyone except the person sitting in your skin right now! You can make some accurate guesses beyond that, but you only can know your truth. It gets complicated because we each interpret our truth according to the biases we’ve developed through personal experience. These interpretations become the lens through which we view life. How the world appears to us through that lens helps us decide what is, or isn’t, true.
Truth can also seem to be a fluid, ever changing reality. Because we are always shifting in our perspectives, thoughts and feelings, it is difficult to nail down exactly what is true from moment to moment. This is an uncomfortable reality for human beings. We want certainty.
This may be why we are so invested in gathering “proof”. We want to establish “the facts”. But, as diverse interpretations of the Bible can testify, there are many renditions of “provable” truth. Each religious faction has gone to great lengths to prove that their exegesis is the right one. But even though there are many interpretations of its word, the Bible does state in plain language that ” …thou shalt not bear false witness”. Dishonesty, no matter what translation one abides by, is plainly a big no-no!
There are some non-negotiable characteristics of truth. First of all, truth is not arguable. When I speak honestly I am telling my truth! I get away from truth when I try to speak for someone else. That’s because I can only speak for me. And therefore, who can argue? I’m simply sharing my viewpoint.
If I were to say, “You obviously don’t care about me!”, we could have a grand argument! But if I say, “I’m feeling unimportant to you”, can you deny that? What are you going to say? “No, you’re not feeling that!” How do you know? I’m the only one who could possibly know. This is what is meant by non-arguable truth.
The second characteristic is that truth engenders intimacy. This is hard to accept. Most of us are firmly ensconced in the idea that telling the truth alienates. “Oh yeah”, you think, “telling my spouse that I’m attracted to some one else is going to bring us closer, right!” Well, before you decide … hear me out.
Intimacy (in-to-me-see) requires letting others know who I am and where I stand. (This implies that I know.) It requires a non-blaming, non-judgmental soul searching combined with a willingness to share the results. If you’re attracted to someone else, then examine what that means. Sometimes we have to dig deep to find out what our truth really is. Experiencing feelings of attraction outside your marriage may be only part of the truth. You may want to ask yourself some important questions. For instance, “Am I getting my needs met in my marriage?” “Is something missing from my relationship?” “Am I harboring anger or resentment towards my spouse?” “Am I feeling ignored, unimportant or unattractive?” Such questions may help define and better prepare you to share honestly. If, for instance, you discover that the source of your temptation comesfrom feeling unattractive and taken for granted, then that can be a starting place for sharing. Relating feelings and thoughts responsibly, remember, means taking ownership of them, not hurling accusations!
“I’m telling myself that you no longer find me attractive and I find myself craving attention from another.”
Such a statement can invite an open exchange between the two of you. It can actually encourage clearing and closeness.
I advocate telling the truth even when it’s difficult. Of course, again, only after painstaking self inquiry should you self disclose. One of the biggest reasons we forego honesty is because we are unwilling to accept the consequences. We don’t want to take responsibility for our choices. It might mean we have to change. And many of us would rather stay with what is familiar and safe, than take that risk. So we lie, to others, as well as to ourselves. Dishonesty alienates us from ourselves! Whereas honesty earns self respect.
If you’re beginning to get the idea that truth-telling is hard work, you’re right. We get honest by degrees. The point is to be as scrupulous today as you can. Your ability to tell the truth will increase as your consciousness grows.
So what is the truth about truth? This issue with our President has brought to light an age-old societal problem. It has made us aware, not only of his lack of integrity, but of that same absence in society at large. Honesty requires tenacity, commitment and courage. We appear to be a country sorely lacking in these qualities. As a matter of fact, frank integrity appears to require a kind of maturity that not even our President has been able to demonstrate. I challenge you to do better.
Learning to Let Go
We leave all kinds of things behind on our walk through life; jobs, houses, car s, towns and cities, families, friendships, our childhoods and eventually our v ery health and physical bodies. But just because we’ve walked away from someth ing, doesn’t mean we’ve actually let it go. More often than not, we continue t o carry within us these things we’ve supposedly left behind for years and even a lifetime. There is a critical art to setting something down that few of us recognize or honor. It is the understanding that grief plays in the process of letting go. Without grieving that which we need to let go of there can not be a completion, a final releasing of whatever it is we’re carrying.
Grief is not something we give ourselves or each other much permission around.