Today, I’d like to spend a little time thinking about concepts of truth. I think most of us would like to think of ourselves as fundamentally truthful people. I know I do. Being truthful, with ourselves and with others, is a key requirement if we want to live as our authentic selves. I wonder, though, whether we are better at some kinds of truthfulness than we are at others. Here are just a few of the aspects of truth that I have been reflecting upon this week.
Truth as Self Awareness
I think we’re all used to the idea that being honest with ourselves is hugely important to our personal development, our happiness and our performance in all aspects of our lives. You all know by now that I take time every day to reflect and to write in my journal, and this is without a doubt a major factor in my ability to be truthful with myself about myself.
One important thing to consider when thinking about your own self-awareness is whether you are equally truthful with yourself about all aspects of yourself. For many it can be at least as difficult, if not more so, to acknowledge our own excellence as it is to notice our flaws and weaknesses. For others it can be more difficult to face our failures, especially those where we have not lived up to our own standards. Noticing the areas where our minds ‘skate over’ or ‘shy away’ from deep reflection is a good sign that more consideration is needed.
Truth and Social Convention
Having said that being truthful is important to me, I think it’s important to think about the times at which I habitually limit or restrict truthfulness. There are many social situations in which being fully honest can be somewhat transgressive. The daily “how are you?” with a colleague, for example, is probably not a request for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In this, we are responding to the intent of the question, rather than the exact words used.
Whilst they are understandable, and socially expected, these kinds of interactions are fundamentally unfulfilling and rarely help us to achieve our goals. Whilst I wouldn’t advocate burdening everyone you meet on a Monday morning with the details of your throat infection, I do think it’s worth thinking very carefully about how and why we give socially appropriate answers.
It’s very easy to justify not being completely honest under the guise of avoiding being rude or overly harsh. In many ways, increasing honesty in a social setting depends on our ability to be honest with ourselves. We need to understand why we take or avoid opportunities for honesty in order to know whether we’re happy with the decisions we’re making.
Truth as Openness to Different Viewpoints
Another aspect of truth that I have been considering is our openness to new information and to changing our minds. It may seem strange to include this under the heading of truth, but I think it’s utterly integral. We can only be truthful if we are vigilant with respect to our own accuracy.
If we wish to speak the truth, we must first seek it out. We must be open to change and actively test our own beliefs and assumptions. We’re currently living through a time of huge upheaval and uncertainty. When we are presented with viewpoints that we hadn’t considered before, or when we hear life stories that conflict with how we view the world, it’s essential that we take that information on board; that we listen and learn rather than diminish and deny.
Truth as Speaking Aloud
The final aspect of truth that I would like to highlight is that of speaking aloud. Sometimes knowing the truth isn’t enough. In some circumstances keeping silent feels like we’re being complicit. In others, it simply means that we can’t engage at the level that we want to. When we see our truth and we stand proudly behind that truth, we know without question that we are behaving with integrity.
Being able to be truthful, to ourselves and to others, is one of the most freeing experiences I can imagine. Without wishing to sound like a zealot, the truth really can set you free.