I believe in telling the truth – not the expedient truth or the kinder, gentler truth or the truth with a positive spin. I mean the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I have not spoken the truth on many occasions. I didn’t lie, but I deliberately withheld what I knew to be true. Lying implies a desire to deceive or manipulate another person with false information. Avoiding telling the truth seems more benign but can be just as damaging, albeit in a more insidious way.
I recently lost a friend who had been dear to me for nearly thirty years because I could not bear to tell her the truth about a business venture we were undertaking together. When the situation demanded that I come clean with her it was too late to undo the damage that my obfuscation had caused. Had I been truthful with her in the first place I am nearly certain that we would have been able to negotiate our way out of our conundrum.
I thought I was being merciful by hiding the truth from my friend. I had read somewhere that the test of whether or not one should speak the truth consists of three questions: Is the statement honest? Is it necessary? Is it kind? I withheld my word because I thought it would be unkind to say things that would be hurtful to her. I now feel that these questions are both misleading and too glib.
I’ve too often felt that I was protecting another person by softening the truth or withholding negative data or feelings from them. This has almost always backfired. Eventually, the truth has come out; then what seemed like mercy mutated into something much more painful and damaging.
So who have I really been protecting by avoiding the truth? Always myself. Honesty, in its purest, most direct form, is terribly frightening. To speak truthfully one must be willing to risk everything, whether it is a relationship, a job, or a reputation. It takes tremendous courage to tell the truth and face whatever consequences may arise. But when I take the long view, there is nothing more compassionate and merciful than speaking the truth in the present moment. Delaying, withholding or avoiding the truth nearly always leads to disaster.
Most of all, I believe in being honest with myself. This requires ruthless self-inquiry, a pastime that is seldom fun. I’m not advocating brutal self-criticism, just clear-headed awareness. If I want the truth to set me free (which it will), I must cultivate a finely tuned balance between dispassionate judgment and compassionate understanding – a daunting task indeed.
It is said that the truth hurts, that the process is akin to baring one’s soul. But, quite honestly, I can’t think of a path I’d rather follow.