I've been pondering a little philosophical exercise today about truth and honesty. I promise this post is not about my in-laws! But it is something my in-laws have said to me a few times in the past during our problems and D just mentioned it again to me the other day. It is something to the effect that I am too honest, or that I somehow "get off" on honesty, or that I put being honest/or otherwise what I would consider "right" on a higher priority than relationships.
Since it is an honest criticism of me, and I try to see what I can take and grow from that. But the whole thing just confuses me. And maybe I am just incredibly dense. I mean be critical of my tact, of my diplomacy, of my patience, of my timing--all of which well and truly suck at times. But I don't get the whole being honest as a means to jeopardize the relationship thing. How can being honest be mutually exclusive from caring about relationships? How can you actually choose one over the other like a multiple choice test? For starters, lets be clear here. I am not totally honest. I lie like the rest 'uv ya. Little white lies or lies of omission to spare feelings. Lies of laziness so I don't have to explain myself. When I was younger, I could tell real whoppers just to have something interesting to say. But probably because of that, and the times I got caught on it, I have really been uber-sensitive to being honest. To me, honesty and truth are the goals we want to achieve. Truth isn't only a tool to get to a healthy relationship, truth equals love. When you open yourself up for someone to see the whole, real you...and you, them...you allow them to love you in your entirety...and you, them.
Is there ever a circumstance when truth is not the goal? In any facet of life? I don't know. I'm pondering...
Of course there is the example of your friend, about to go on a date, who is excited about her new dress which you hate. She asks you if you like her dress. If you know her well, you may know that what she is really saying is, "I'm so excited about this date and this dress and I want to share it with you!" Or, "I'm nervous and I need you to boost my confidence!" She's probably not really asking whether you like the dress. Why is your opinion of her dress even that relevant? You can either give her what she really wants: Shared excitement or a confidence boost, "You look so excited and happy that you just shine with beauty!" "You always look beautiful when you wear something that shows your own personal style." You can even be honest, "Well, that dress wouldn't work for me but I'm glad you like it!" Or, maybe, if you've really cut through the crap and you're really close, you are lucky enough to understand that each of you have entirely different tastes and you will joke to each other about it: "Oh, you know how I LUV when you dress up in pink ruffles! You look like a dime store bridesmaid-turned-ho!" (When you get to that level of friendship, isn't that just the best?) And because you have an honest relationship, you may also know when she really, really values your opinion on the ACTUAL dress itself. Like she is getting ready for a job interview and How do I look? really means How do I look? Be brutally honest because I don't want to screw up this interview and I need your input. Honesty is the only way to get to these places in a friendship. Otherwise, you may hang out, but you sorta reach a stagnancy at some point. We all have these, I think they are called long-term aquintances.
There is a book called Radical Honesty by Brad Blanton that explains how being honest (I don't get the Radical part, I guess it just means, not even a little white lie) can help you to have more meaningful relationships, better life management and organizations, better success in career, etc. They did a story on it awhile back on 20/20. They showed how being honest improved people's lives. But then, and this cracked me up, Barbara Walters said in the epilogue, something like, "Don't try this at home without a trained professional." So, we are so dishonest now that we need a trained psychologist to monitor our having honest relationships? Of course, the book talks extensively about tact and diplomacy (so I should probably go read it!) but the tone of the 20/20 spot was just that this was such a totally way-out there and novel idea. But do you ever imagine what it would be like if we couldn't lie? Like if we lived on Betazoid or something and we were all empathic? And how much that would fundamentally change our society? Hmmm...
A harder one: A death bed confession. Do you tell your dying wife that you cheated on her? Hmmm. I don't know. But I have to open my mind up to the possibility of forgiveness. Maybe the wife always suspected or knew. Maybe she's been waiting for you to fess up to her so you guys can clear your baggage. Maybe the perspective of dying makes the cheating small and not important anymore so even in the last few minutes, the relationship would grow stronger with the honesty and the understanding that in this life, we all screw up. The answer here may be entirely situational. But I can't say that categorically honesty wouldn't be the best way to go.
Truth, of course, is relative. My truth may not be your truth. My truth right now may be different than my truth five years ago. It is a moving and changing thing. It is fluid and only remains a truth in the very instant that it exists. Even scientific facts are not really facts. They are only facts until they are proven not to be any more. My favorite is when people say something like: Fact--38% of all Americans ate french fries yesterday or something like that. Statistics are the most fluid facts of them all. They are only true to the specific subjects in the specific study and are vulnerable to the specific scientists interpretations and scientific model. I'm not saying they are useless, they are little snapshots of truth. But they are not facts. Truth is the best we can do right now. Truth is what we know to be this instant until we know more, better, or differently.
I dare say, and I don't know if it is true (heh), that seeking truth may be the meaning of life. The highest calling. The honor we strive for. The constant searching and peeling back of the layers and observing and experimenting and seeking out, is all to find truth. And then when our time runs out, to pass the torch of light to others so they may continue to seek truth and build on what we've found.
One of the things that appeals to me about Unitarian Universalism, is the very high and almost "holy" value and priority they put on truth. And the recognition that none of us know it, and we are all taking entirely different paths in our search for it. And that we will never get there in this lifetime, but the pursuit is still worth it. The searching out to find it leads us to beauty. Beauty in the earth and in each other and in our society and the universe. And that there is beauty and wonder in the unknown. How lucky we are that we don't know everything so we can imagine all the possibilities? Truth is beauty, as they say.
And truth is also change. Which means that truth hurts and then it heals. Because change is always about death and rebirth. And it is when you find that your old truths aren't working and a new truth is what is real for you, that you know you need to change. Which sometimes sucks. One thing about truth is that once you have found a little piece of it, you cannot go back to the lie.
I think about times in my life when I found a new truth and it meant I had to change. I could not live within the lie anymore. My very earliest memory of this was when I bugged my babysitter to death quoting commercials verbatim and telling her she bought the wrong laundry soap. She finally said to me, "Lisa, commercials lie, ok? Don't believe commercials." I was probably like 5, and I had no idea that what I saw adults telling me on the TV wasn't true. So, then, I became a commercial skeptic. And had to think of the world differently in a way. It was my first real truth I learned about a market economy, and more significantly, that adults lie.
And then there was the stuff you learn in college which completely contradicts everything you learned in high school civics and history. Columbus was a genocidal, slave-trading asshole. Wars are fought many times primarily to keep the military industrial complex in the black. That kind of stuff. I didn't really clue in to media bias that much until the early 9/11 coverage when some channels broadcasted the BBC or other international news and I saw how different their takes were on the attacks and why the U.S. was targeted. This truth made me not ever be able to watch a story on CNN again without checking ten other sources as well.
There are the truths you learn about oppression and social injustices. Every thing from watching the miniseries "Roots" and "The Holocaust" when I was like 7 years old, to my current obsession with the patriarchy since having given birth to boys that I highly desire to figure out how to raise not to be pigs. You can't go back after you've learned the truth. You can't go back and think that humans don't chain other humans on stacks and stacks of ship decks to sell. You can't go back to a more innocent time. Someday I will have to teach my children about the generations of ways men have overpowered and dehumanized women and my little sweet innocent boys will know that this is possible. That humans can cross that line and go to that evil place. And then I will have to hope that they find their own truth without ever crossing those lines and going to those places.
Truth hurts, but it heals as well. I remember a time when I found out that I was a minority in my own family. And that they had conditioned disdain for people like me. (For we are all victims of institutional oppression, even the so-called oppressors.) It was in blind rehab. And I had this moment of clarity when I found that some of the ways my parents treated me were because of their fear and disdain for blindness and disability. And I understood this fear, because I had it, too. And I learned that the fear about blindness is not in being blind itself, which is very survivable-if not a pain in the ass-but how you will lose your place in society and be outcasted and marginalized.
What shocked me most is that the truth was that society was lying. Being blind wasn't in and of itself a bad thing. Neither is being black or gay or female or poor. The truth I found was that the caste-ing of all of us was the big lie. And that these lies were so pervasive, that even a mother's love couldn't circumvent past them sometimes. Families were being ripped apart by disability shame, gay shame, interracial marriage shame, whatever. A mother's love couldn't see through the lie? Society's lie was that powerful? Once you see the truth in that, you can't go back. But then, time after time, I saw mothers find out their kids were disabled or their sons and daughters were gay, and I saw them push themselves so hard to find a new truth, and to move past the lies that society has told them. And once they did that and learned everything they could learn and reteach themselves new ways of thinking, they turned around to the truth right in front of them that was always there. Their child, shining out beyond the lies. Truth is love.
The only thing you can do when you are immersed in these huge institutionalized lies is try to vigilantly shed some light on it so that yourself and other people see it for the lie that it is. This has been one of my main passions for the last decade or so. To try to search for the truths in what society has lied to itself about. Its ugly. And some people want the truth to remain hidden from them. They don't want to know. They don't want to have to go through the gateway of truth and never be able to come back to the realm of delusional innocence. We all live somewhere in the realm between delusion and truth. Some people try to forge ahead and much as possible and some try, kicking and screaming, to stay as far away as they can from finding out something that may make them have to change.
The truth hurts, and it heals. The truth is change. When you are blind and suddenly you find out that you'll do just fine as a blind woman, but also that suddenly most people won't think you are worth a shit... YOU will know. You will know that you are the same person. That you have inherent self worth. That you are not the person society's lie will have you to be. You won't have to believe the press about people like you, because you will know the truth. Maya Angelou knew why the caged bird sang, blind people know that they are able to "walk alone while marching together." The truth heals.
But sometimes I see other disabled people who still believe that they are worthless, that hate themselves for not being what others want them to be. They believe the lie that they are a deficit and not "whole" or maybe even better off dead. And I see battered women and children who won't leave their abuser because they think they deserve it. Or young black men and women who think that they are the image of the thug or ho that they see on TV. And I see a woman with holes in her clothes get off the bus that was 20 minutes late and go into the WIC office only to be told she missed her appointment and she can't get her vouchers this month, and I see her think that she deserves this. And I see white people, who think it is okay to go on not knowing or understanding what is happening to their neighbors. And I have to try to be be honest with them, if I can, with what truth I see. They may see something different. And together, we may find something deeper in the truth. Truth is change. But you can't not see things once you see things. And you can't not try to do at least a little something about it if you can. It isn't me that is the pain in the ass, it isn't the truth either, the truth will set you free. It is the lie that is the pain in the ass. It's the lie's fault that it's so hard, not the seeker of the truth.
So, yes, speaking the truth means more to me than the relationship. If it is even possible to make that statement. Because speaking the truth IS the relationship. There is no relationship without honesty. Truth is love. My truth may not be your truth, and if they clash, we have to work together to find out what the lies are and where our honesty lies together. If someone isn't ready to face the truth, then perhaps we go our separate ways for a while, and come back later...or not. I live, as we all do, somewhere between truth and delusion, but I'm going this way with all my energy and spirit and power. And I'd love to travel with as many people who want to come along for the journey. Truth is love, and I'm reaching towards the light.
He who seeks the truth and trembles
At the dangers he must brave,
Is not fit to be a freeman -
He at best is but a slave.
Be thou like the first apostle,
Be thou like heroic Paul;
If a free thought seeks expression,
Speak it boldly, speak it all.
Face thine enemies, thine accusers,
Scorn the prison, the rack, the rod;
And, if thou hast truth to utter,
Speak, and leave the rest to God.