TELLING THE TRUTH
I BELIEVE IN THE IMPORTANCE OF SAYING WHAT YOU MEAN AND MEANING WHAT YOU SAY. God knows it isn’t easy to do this, on any level from the most trivial and seemingly inconsequential to the most serious occasions. But the consequences of not saying what you mean, and not meaning what you say are too troubling to ignore.
Saying what you mean can be called honesty, truthfulness, integrity. The person who lives by these precepts builds trust in all her relationships. She does not pick and choose when or where or most importantly with whom to be honest. Truthful speech may be either gentle or blunt; it should not be sarcastic, barbed, poison-tipped or evasive. Truthfulness is a solid path through the quicksand of lies.
Lies may be committed in two opposite ways, besides the obvious one of saying a factual untruth. One way is the lie of omission—a person fails to disclose what s/he thinks or decides the hearer won’t want to hear, even though the information withheld is of vital importance to the subject at hand. The other kind of lying is more difficult to describe. It can be the result of an attempt at full disclosure—the provision of too much confusing information all at once. This is called obfuscation, and it may be committed intentionally or innocently. When a dialogue becomes overwhelmed in this way, the truth that is lost is that of perspective. What is most important? What is “old news” that can be allowed to blow away?
People who have allowed years of accumulated misunderstanding and mistrust to fill their mental and emotional gunnysacks with pain, defensiveness, and recriminations will have a hard time learning to be open and clear, and simple with each other. How are they to go about composting the accumulated garbage? Should each one spread it secretly on her own garden in the dark of the moon> Do they need to work together, mixing their bags of stuff on common ground in the activating energy of sunlight? Is it worth the bother, either way? Why not just tie the bags tightly and bury them deep, or throw them off a cliff far from home?
In cases like this, a fresh start is wanted. But the person who starts by saying, “I need to tell you how you hurt me, so that I can hear you say you’re sorry and ask my forgiveness” is on the wrong track. This request, no matter how heartfelt and easy to understand, will generate only the slamming of a door in her face, accompanied by the finality of “I don’t want to go there”.
A better approach might be something like this: “I know I must have hurt you in a thousand ways, over the years, even though I didn’t mean to. And I want you to know how sorry I am that we have grown apart so, and learned to mistrust each other so completely. Can you forgive me? Can you work with me to learn a new way of relating to each other? I would really like to hear your ideas as to how we might do this.”
I believe that healing broken relationships, as well as creating whole and healthy ones, requires that each person see the other as honest, as trustworthy. So each must do her best to speak clearly and follow through on any commitments she makes to the other. The person who repeatedly says “I love you” or “I’d really like to get together” but then never has time to spend with you unless you are in dire need, ill, or in a crisis, has shown that her pretty words, however well meant she may have thought them, were not truly meant but rather insincere and just for show. This kind of untruthful speech creates a hierarchy of neediness in which the person offering the illusion of friendship but withholding its actuality holds all the power of manipulation. The other person becomes the needy one, waiting and hoping for action to make the implied promises real. Or she accepts, from a servile position, the inequality of their friendship, or she opts out altogether. What she cannot do in this scenario is to relax and trust the first person’s words; she cannot take them at face value.
How then can we become people whose speech is consistently truthful? Here are a few principles to employ:
1) Don’t lie to yourself. Self-deception is a cancer of the mind. It renders truthfulness with others impossible.
2) If you know it isn’t true, don’t say it.
3) If you don’t intend your actions to be consistent with what you are about to say, don’t say it.
4) If you aren’t sure of what you’re saying, make that uncertainty clear. Don’t gossip.
5) If your sense of honesty requires you to say something that may wound the hearer, say it clearly, and say it gently. Own up to the fear that you may be about to cause pain, and explain why you would do such a thing.
6) Make a distinction between your vague hope to do a thing, your desire to do it, your intention to do it, and your promise to do it. Express these different levels to yourself first, and then to the other. Get feedback confirming that you’ve been correctly understood.
7) Remember that anger and bitterness can only be transformed in a climate of freedom from fear, a climate created only by repeated experiences of trusting and being found trustworthy.
8) Misunderstandings will occur. Address them as promptly as possible. Don’t wait until what you thought or hoped would be trivial has actually become huge.
9) Allow for the possibility that the other person’s processing style may be faster, slower, more open or more private, more or less verbal than your own.
10) When you have learned to practice basic honesty, you will be able to trust yourself with the joyful expression of unguarded spontaneity.
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