Conditions of Truth

Last weekend I was sitting around with some parents and telling funny stories about our kids. One mother dramatically acted out what her 7-year-old son has recently started saying about his 5-year-old little brother anytime he perceives there to be a partial truth on the air, “Liar! He’s a liar!” We were all chuckling about not only the mother’s fantastic performance but also the theatrical nature of all our little performers as they work to gain their perspective.

It reminded me of a talk I attended in 2019 with the Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times. A few years into the Trump presidency they were struggling with their own reaction to charges of the “fake media” while also calling out when something didn’t match the facts. He made the distinction between calling out what wasn’t true without designating the person a liar. When we follow that practice, we don’t have to determine whether someone is knowingly not being truthful or is merely mistaken.

While I generally believe in the goodness of humans and don’t assume they are lying, I also think we often don’t tell the truth.

Do Our Work

I asked someone the other day how her grown daughter was doing and she replied, “She’s fine.” Her tone and expression betrayed something a little more than that, maybe worry. It appeared that she wasn’t telling the truth either because she doesn’t know it, its confidential or it airing it is too difficult.

I find that I have to pause when I’m about to automatically answer question. As psychiatrist and philosopher Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space.” In that moment’s space, I can make the choice to dig deeper and find the truth. Whether or not I choose to reveal it or even if I just notice that I need to do more work, the whole category of what I don’t want to be honest about, especially with myself, is a rich vein of info. I just have to mine it.

Find a Kind Audience

There is an inverse relationship between our willingness to tell our truth and audiences who are judgmental, nitpicky or uninterested. At the beginning of the pandemic, I went somewhere on the bus and because they were running buses for free, I didn’t need to pay, the doors opened automatically and all I needed to do was walk in and sit down. I told my mom, “It was great, I didn’t have to touch anything.” And my mom, who isn’t unkind but is extremely precise said, “Well, you had to sit on the seat.” True, but still…<eye roll>.

But in an act of extreme generosity when someone wants to get to know us for who we really are and they let us know that it is compassion, not judgment that is waiting, it opens the door to that intimate truth. The precious individuals that offer that space that is wide open to breathe are the ones worth getting to know. And to keep knowing. And also to return the favor. To quote philosopher William James said, “It is only by risking ourselves from one hour to another that we live at all.

Practice

And still it takes practice. Author Paula Underwood Spencer said, “If you want to be truly understood, you need to say everything three times, in three different ways. Once for each ear…and once for the heart.

I have trouble expressing anger. I thought this might be a limiting trait in my parenting career so I’ve tried to develop my “serious voice.” Which is almost completely ineffective. But I’ve found that when I truly get angry and manage to convey it, my kids get it immediately. The other night they wanted to do a “sleep over” where my son slept in my daughter’s room for the night. After they came down the second time with complaints about why it wasn’t working, I got angry and managed to eke out, “Enough. Sleepover is over. Time for bed.” They went right to their own rooms.

It must be why we have deep friendships, committed relationships and families – so we can practice telling our truths. Hopefully my friend’s sons will get that soon enough.

For more posts like this – a little story-telling mixed with philosophy, please visit my personal blog at https://wynneleon.wordpress.com or follow me on Instagram @wynneleon

(featured photo from Pexels)


19 thoughts on “Conditions of Truth

  1. Wynne, Your reflections here are food for thought. I always enjoy your parenting stories. In ending the contentious sleepover, you allowed everyone, including yourself to have a restful night. Now that’s a positive outcome! <3

  2. Oh my, the truth you do tell! Such a vast subject There are big lies and little lies, white lies denial, and hiding from oneself. There’s avoiding it, dancing around it, fear of it, digging for the truth within oneself, intuition about what is true for self and others, uncertainty about whether we’re being lied to, and whether to confront someone about it. Lions, and tigers and bears. Oh my. I have delayed answering an email because it contains a pointed question about an issue I’m dealing with and before responding, I want to discern and express what is true for me—and hope that the person won’t feel the need to respond with suggestions and advice about how to “fix” it. What an opportunity to practice the art of discernment! And a lot of other stuff at the same time. Thanks for another wonderful post!

    1. Love all the wisdom you have in this comment, Julia! Discernment – now there’s a practice that is rich ground for practice. I love (and hate) how many opportunities we get to practice. Thanks for adding all your wisdom to this post my friend!

      1. Oddly, this comment didn’t show up until just now (though i wrote it hours ago!), so I sent another one! One blog, two comments. What can I say?! 😉

  3. Had a kerfuffle last night about truth, or incorrect portrayal of facts, with our teen. Them saying they regret what they did became “I didn’t mean to”. But the action required a consequence, and we parents let them know.

  4. “I think what is truly dangerous aren’t lies but instead when we forget to tell our truth.” I find this a distinction I understand but am at a loss to say which is a greater human problem. If “Our truth” requires a clarity of thought and self-understanding, I have not found it in a great many people, especially if it causes them to seek a place in the world without consideration for others.

    Additionally, I can only say that the level of destruction in the contemporary world being done by the mendacious autocrats and wannabees threatens even the planets survival. The conventional version of truth is challenged by the human desire for simple answers. While we need those who are optimistic about human nature and the world, our existence also requires everyone to take on a role, however small, in saving and repairing the nations that have gone or our going off the rails.

    1. Wow, such a deeply meaningful comment, Dr. Stein. You make a great point that I wasn’t thinking of – about mendacity in the big picture of leadership and power. No doubt that is incredibly destructive and frighteningly persuasive and we do all need to do our part to mend the fabric of society against those that work to rip it apart. So grateful you weighed in on this and added to the conversation!

  5. I agree, “While I generally believe in the goodness of humans and don’t assume they are lying, I also think we often don’t tell the truth.”
    I believe in the goodness of humans until their behavior shows me otherwise.
    I think, sometimes we have to sugarcoat the truth to save our listener’s feelings or if our divulging the truth is not necessary or helpful to the listener.
    Holding the truth back or telling the truth on a need-to-know basis depends on a given situation. Don’t you think?

    1. I totally agree, Chaya. I think there’s a lot of room for discretion – especially if we’ve done the work to know the truth and are making a conscious choice. Thanks for reading and adding your wonderful perspective!

  6. It is wise to be impeccable with our word. And when I flounder, I remember to meditate on the Taoist idea of Investing in Loss to find gain whenever I fall short.

  7. I think we can only ever tell our truth because we don’t (and never will) have the complete picture. I think it’s worth keeping that in mind. Believing you have the complete picture and know all the facts is the biggest lie of all. It’s when we start lying to ourselves that we truly become lost. Thought provoking post Wynne – thank you for sharing

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