“Tell me the truth.”
How often do we hear that, say that? Isn’t a bit curious that we have to exert ourselves to get it, even more to hear it? Why do we doubt we are getting the truth? Why do we so often battle it when it does come?
The character of Lt. Col. Jessup in A Few Good Men said it best: Maybe we can’t always handle the truth.
We need not have dark corners in our lives to consider whether this reflex to flee from or cover up truth is an affliction all too endemic to the human condition. Truth is something outside of ourselves that has its own substance and force, despite our most strained efforts to conform it to our view. Truth in this context need not be some embarrassing or shameful thing; it might simply be a reality we refuse to acknowledge, accept or embrace.
In business, truth is out there if we seek it. The division that is failing, the tectonic market shifts that imperil a carefully designed long-term strategy, a pattern of failures with partners or stakeholders. Sometimes, if we’re honest enough, the truth already has found a resting place inside of us —- what we know to be a chronic performance or interpersonal shortcoming by a trusted member of the leadership team, a secret and nagging sense of doubt or anxiety about a decision, a personal blind spot that is now in our field of vision, even a dream or vision for ourselves that we fear others might consider fanciful.
The truth is not free, but it is freeing
The truth hurts. We were all taught that, and perhaps there is an instinctive, Pavlovian response to a reality that seems bigger than us, or uncomfortable, or inconvenient.
The truth can also cost us. We can lose a friendship, a business deal or career opportunity, even our manufactured sense of self when we speak the truth —- even to ourselves.
We hear that the truth can set us free, but until we experience it, it’s hard to arrive at that value proposition, especially when the equation seems so complex and personal. We can calculate that to accept the truth we have to give up something, something of ourselves. The question is whether that part of us was worth keeping.
We lose nothing of consequence with the truth. Truth be told, the truth is a huge sigh of relief. The truth levels us, eases us down from our posing perch. It also invites others toward us, with a mutual vulnerability that leads to more authentic and honest relationships and dialogue. The truth brings focus to what we need to be doing and the possible. We put down our fists, open our eyes, ears, heart and mind. The truth frees up all the energy we waste pretending or manufacturing a reality that is not there.
While all of us, to some measure, are beset with that human frailty to avoid the truth, we also have within us the enormous capacity to confront it.
And that—-above all—-is what makes us real.