Telling the truth?

What exactly does that mean?

Really, is there an objective truth? Where does that exist? In the mind of what? All that we as humans perceive comes through our eyes, our lens, our brains, our perspectives, and our experiences. We do not perceive an objective separate reality; all that we perceive comes in through the filter of our minds. If there is an objective truth, it is not something that we have access to, and thus becomes irrelevant to this conversation.

Given our subjectivity, what does it mean to tell the truth? Have you ever beheld a situation in which two, or three, or multiple possible truths presented themselves and you had no idea upon which truth or understanding of the situation to act? When I have found myself in this situation I have found that the best I can do is to humbly accept the limits of my knowledge and experience and to act on whatever feeling is strongest…without the conviction that a claim to ultimate truth might lend to my words. Without believing that I have a corner on the truth it’s a lot easier to admit when I’m wrong or have misspoken.

The question in my mind is whether the point is really to tell the truth or to act in integrity? If truth has an unquestionable status in our culture that confers upon the bearer of the “truth” a certain amount of power, do we use truth to seek power? And are we ready to bear that power responsibly, or do we wield the truth seeking power that comes with being unquestioned? This seems to me to be another refuge for our desire for certainty, respect, and status. Yet the question remains, which version of the truth will you present? For what reason, what is the motive of presenting words or ideas in a certain way?

It’s so easy to say just tell the truth, but even a yes or no question has meanings imbued that while unspoken are just as relevant to how the statement is given or perceived…

All this is to say, truth can be a cop-out, a word used to justify saying something unsavory that is really simply a perception, and an ugly one at that. We can use the excuse of truth to communicate something to someone that is judgmental, hurtful, and unkind, something that when we view from a different perspective actually looks quite different…but the damage is done, we already spoke the “truth.”

This is not a polemic against honesty but a distinction between a dogmatic pursuit of an unrealizable ideal and an authentic owning up to our own unsavory motivations as well as the limits of our own perceptions. If honesty is really what’s at stake I think it would serve us all to ask ourselves what we stand to gain or what it feels like to say what we think we need to say. If there is a desire to be right, to make someone see something about themselves, or to clear our own space of something we don’t want to carry anymore, we may want to ask again if it is such an altruistic thing to “tell the truth,” and what may be hiding beneath those purely held words and ideals…


3 thoughts on “Telling the truth?

  1. Whatever one says will always be tainted. Whether it is tainted because the person wishes to hide something, or whether it is simply due to their limitations of education, ability to communicate, the limitations of language and understanding and the bias that is natural when two separate people will not have EXACTLY the same motivations in communication.

    Personally I disagree with the second half of what you are saying though. To me, one’s own belief of the truth, when expressed, is the ultimate act of integrity, regardless of the social conventions it may break in doing so. Whether we gain or lose from the matter should not be part of our decision making. Of course, you are right in saying that is an ideal, and reality is so much more complicated.

    I really enjoyed reading this 🙂

    1. Thank you for this! So there are all the limitations you mentioned, and the one that I speak of which is the limits of our awareness of our selves, and our own ulterior motives. The ego is tricky and can use truth just like any other tool to shore up its own position, you know what I mean? The ability to critically engage with ones’ own thought process and see what else is there below the surface is not something that is taught.

      One’s own truth is to me, as it seems to be to you, an incredibly deep and profound place of integrity. Yet it is precisely the profound integrity that is conferred to this space that makes it dangerous to lean on. It is not social conventions at all that I am concerned about breaking. Quite the opposite. I have little allegiance to social conventions. What I am calling on people to do, and my own expectation of myself as well, is that I will use the word and the idea of truth lightly, and always question it very critically to make sure that I am actually coming from a place of deep integrity, not simply using “my truth” to be right, or have my perceptions be in a realm beyond questioning. Does that make sense?

      1. It makes a lot of sense. It is so hard to express our thoughts on topics such as this. It’s great to read other people doing so 🙂

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