What would the world be if we only told the truth? This question is scratched into a note card, pinned to a corkboard three feet above my head everyday. So I stare at it, repeatedly, wondering how could I ever possibly live up to this ideal? It is hard to imagine, a world in which the truth is the finest form of currency, where lies are internally ousted, and never manage to reach the surface. If we ceased to lie, what type of people could we become?
By lying, I don’t just mean saying things that we understand to be false. While this is bad, lying comes in many, equally devastating forms. There are lies of omission, and lies of commission. There are black lies, and white lies. There is purposely strutting around certain information, telling only a half story. It is lying when we refuse to speak up, instead deciding to swallow our truth like shame and allow it to plant seeds of resentment in our bellies. It is lying when we refuse to act in accordance with our beliefs, or values, or we convince ourselves of a reality that is not true. Any one of these behaviors have the capacity to poison the well. See, the issue with the truth and a lie is that they are not equal in their power. A drop of clean water into mud does nothing for us initially, but, a drop of mud into clean water ruins the whole bucket.
So I began to ask myself: What would I, my relationships, the world be if I stopped lying? The first step was to identify what was considered a lie. So I studied my behaviors, as if I took a microscope to every action, everything I did was questioned. “Why am I doing this?” “What is the purpose of this behavior?” So I realized, in order to live a life of truth, I had to scrape off every lie, like barnacles on an old boat, my hull was full of creatures that I never meant to put there. Every action and reaction, every habitual behavior, every utterance and thought went under the knife to be dissected for a purpose (While this sounds like a past tense project, it is still very much underway).
There is a psychological term deemed Transference, which essentially means the process of clinging on to outdated ways of living. As children, we develop survival strategies to cope with our situations, to survive the day in and day out of what could be chaotic lives. While this doesn’t have to be as socially crippling or individually devastating as developing a deep seeded fear of rejection, or an unparalleled distrust of the human race (though often it is), this could even just mean developing people pleasing habits that served you well as a child. But now, as an adult, these behaviors are no longer needed for survival. In fact, they inhibit growth, and keep us in a cycle of childish fever forever. It is these behaviors that we learn out of necessity as children that create ripple effects throughout our lives. “It is the parents themselves who visit their sins upon their children.”
Like a voluntary high dive into the fire of self-examination, I leaped in and felt every piece of unnecessary wood burn. Who would I be if I lived how I wanted to live now? Instead of if I lived how I had to live to survive as a child? What if I let go of fear, and made my own decisions? What if I always told the truth, even when it makes me feel weak, vulnerable, or rejected? How would I connect with people, if I told them my true feelings, and not a pity platter of impressive lies meant to paint a facade?
These questions ricocheted across my mind, like a tennis ball, bouncing off of the inside of my eyelids everytime I blinked. So I took a deep breathe, and dove into the eternal flames. Burning, as it sounds, is never a fun process. Feeling the parts of you that grew outdated burning away like the scraps of wood you throw over a campfire is not enjoyable. But, it sure is meaningful. The truth, it seems, provides life with the filler of meaning that is needed to continue in the face of suffering.
I write this as a first hand account of the power of truth: there is no better. When I was in my late teens and first years of my twenties, my step mom told me that I can’t keep shifting my personality and my being to match these people I would read in books. She attempted to explain to me how this process is just delaying the inevitable need to find, and thus express myself. Obviously I ignored her, and continued to shapeshift into a new persona every few months. As I said, I became the vegan, the traveler, the poet, the writer, the philosopher, and the psychologist (this is not to say that exploring new interests is bad).
So I allowed these questions to guide my ship into water I have never seen before. I let go of plans, of ideas of who I was, and decided that I will let the truth figure it all out for me. I spoke words that came out clean, like the water after my team installed fresh filters on the sinks of Flint, Michigan, instead of words that crawled out, belly side out and made me wrench in regret the moment they left my mouth. I behaved in a way that brought my self into Being, not in a way that I felt I should behave. I allowed expression to be true, and found that the me I want to be lives at the intersection of all of the old me’s I once tried to be.
I can't find the poetic words, or the rhythmic structure to explain the consequences of this choice. So, as if we were sitting over a beer at a late night pub, I’ll try to words vomit it all out to you: The truth has been freeing. As if a tension of who I had to be was lifted off of my chest, as if the freedom to enjoy life was granted to me. I can’t fathom the words to explain how I feel, as if emotions that I never knew existed have sprung up inside. I understand foolish love poems, and childish dreams of potentiality now. I see that there is a depth to human connection I never dreamed possible, and all I had to do was open up and share who I was. Life has suddenly blessed me with moments that force me to take a step back and enjoy their beauty, to revel in the understanding that this specific moment is a blessing, is a consequence of the sacrifice of telling the truth. I no longer feel the weight of regret lurching inside my bones, as my words and actions butterflied out of my mouth like paper planes in the wind, instead of like anchors, pulling down conversations into the depths of the sea. Telling the truth, and behaving in a way that allows me to tell the truth, allowed a resurrection of unknown potential to come out of the voluntary crucifixion I decided to undergo.
But it isn’t easy to tell the truth. I don’t mean this in a cliche childhood way of lying to avoid trouble. No, I mean living in a way that embodies what you know to be true inside is difficult, and painful. How do we tell the truth if we can’t find it in ourselves to trust? How do we speak into existence the Being inside if we feel as though the being that lies in the depths is corrupt, is evil? How do we verbally open our soul to those around us if we have a deep knowledge that they will leave shortly after? In order to tell the truth, you must have trust in yourself, in the receiver, and in the world.
I believe that this is why the truth feels so freeing, why it feels like a rebirth into a new life. I was terrified and ashamed of the feelings I hid inside. Resentment piled on top of loneliness, stacking on a foundation of regret and shame. I convinced myself that if I couldn’t accept the truth inside, how could anyone else? I was living as an adult, with the defense mechanisms of a nine year old (which I think many of us are. Do we every ask why we react how we do?). Trust in others is difficult. It is like jumping into a cold pool. You can either dive in in one go, but understand that what occurs may be terrible, or you can start slow. One toe at a time until suddenly you’re neck deep in freezing water and you didn’t even know it.
Developing trust (a keystone to telling the truth) is a very difficult endeavor. If it took us tens of years to dig ourselves into the holes of distrust and distaste we find ourselves in, it will take us years to crawl back out. But again, what is the alternative? We either allow ourselves to give some trust away (because that is how you get it back), or we hold it inside, hoarding ourselves away from the world and living in a shelter of voluntary (and involuntary) solitude. If we can learn to trust, to jump and have faith that the net will appear, then we can fully live in the truth.
There is a cost for everything, and the cost of lying is not only internal angst, but external dissatisfaction. What would we, our relationships, or the world be if we decided to oust the lies, and always tell the truth? If we decided to forget the consequences, forget the potential judgement, fears of rejections, and unforeseen consequences, and put our faith in the truth, in the universe, and in ourselves? What would we, or our relationships be if we ceased the cycle of impression and behaved in a manner congruent with who we were inside? What if we had the courage, had the trust, to show who we were, and to be truthful about it?
If we don’t, if we continue to live in a system where we bite our tongues, where we hide our feelings, where we smoother our Beings, then where will we end up? Carl Jung gave a metaphor of our lives being like a play. We can either live our life by truth, and thus take control of our script, being a lead character in the drama that could be our’s. Or, we can sulk into someone else’s play. And you know what happens if we are in someone else’s play? We will get a bit part well below our capabilities. This is what Epictetus seem to mean when he said, “If you should ever turn your will to things outside your control to impress someone, be sure that you have wrecked your whole purpose in life”.
What would the world be if we only told the truth?