Tag Archives: Philosophy

Tell Nothing But The Truth

30 Jul

I remember, in first grade, I put a bright yellow sticker on another kid’s art project. I smoothed the happy face the size of a silver dollar right on it. I don’t know why; I just did. I had no idea it would be as big of a deal as it turned out to be: the kid cried, our teacher was furious and the whole class was forced to stay in for recess for a whole week, until someone confessed to the defacement of property. I never said anything. I never got in trouble and it never mattered.

Fast forward. After a difficult transition at work, my supervisor asked me how I feel about her. I stared into her eyes and I told her the truth. Well, the truth did not set me free; if anything, it has sufficiently muddied the waters. My truth effectively offended her and changed the dynamic between us for the foreseeable future.  I could actually see her bristle as my words evaporated into the air. But, I told the truth! Is that still the right thing to do, IS honesty the best policy?

Now, I have ruffled feathers, and for what? For some sort of phantom virtue police? Was I expecting a pat on the back for my directness and authenticity? A trophy in the mail for my sincerity? Well, no one feels better, least of all me.

Who does honesty benefit anyway? Does it ever turn out well for someone to reveal something that is painful? Why do it then? What motivates us to tell the truth? If anything it is the lies that save your ass.

How many times have you told someone they look great when they don’t, told someone you were busy when you weren’t, said you were seeing someone when you definitely weren’t? And who was the worse for it? No one. In fact, it spared feelings and probably helped you skip over a bunch of unneeded drama.

Do we need lies to navigate safely through life? To buffer and soften the blows that can make things complicated? Is lying the adult thing to do?

Maybe as we grow older, candor is replaced by discretion and honesty is no longer appropriated to the public sphere. It’s not that it is necessarily punishable, more like frowned upon. It’s rude, or dramatic, inappropriate, or just plain unnecessary. Telling the truth becomes self-serving. Why tell the truth when you can smooth things over? Don’t rock the boat.

Think about couples that have been married 50+ years, old and gray and still happy… I bet you hear a whole lot of “Yes, Dear” in their house and I’ll bet my right arm it’s not always truthful. Happy wife, happy life. What my husband doesn’t know won’t hurt him. When did we all turn into such liars? And why didn’t I get the memo?

Ever since my omission of the truth in the first grade and an unfortunate situation where I stole a pen from my neighbor in second, I have been relatively honest since. I’m definitely not saying I always am, but for the most part. After I stole the pen, I was forced to return it and apologize. It was probably one of the top 10 worst moments of my life. I felt horrible, tears streamed down my face as I told my neighbor, Larry, what I had done. I relinquished the pen to its rightful owner. I told him I stole his pen because I really liked it and I was very sorry. Of course, he didn’t really care and in retrospect I think he thought it was a little cute. But in the moment, I was completely distraught. The guilt was overwhelming. What did these situations teach me? Lie. Bad. Truth. Good. But does this still hold true? Are there still only the two extremes to choose from? Do the rules change with adulthood?

The truth is, I don’t know. I didn’t know then and I certainly don’t now. I was wrong about the pen and I was wrong at work. Maybe the only thing I was right about was keeping my mouth shut about the sticker. Maybe silence is the new ideal, the middle ground between the truth and the lie. Would the world be a better place if we all just kept all things controversial to ourselves? If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. You know, that whole bit.

Perhaps with adulthood, comes the realization that your personal truth may not be everyone else’s. Not all situations necessitate one’s vocalization of “the truth”. Not everyone needs to know how you feel; it’s OK to keep it to yourself. Did I think my opinion would somehow enact change, trigger an epiphany or be met with applause and a Nobel Prize for my contribution to the world? Well…yeah. Not really all that, but I thought it was important at the time. Turns out, it wasn’t.

With my next day at work only a very short, menacing 36 hours away, I’m dreading facing the music. Walking through the doors and seeing the fall out from my virtuous expression. I’m sure it will be fine; things are never as bad as you think they are. People don’t notice your mistakes as much as you think they do.

But, I do know this, from now on, I’m going to keep my damn truth to myself.

© Copyright 2012 hairsprayandhemingway

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