#126 The Truth Part 2

Three weeks ago in post #123, I wrote about discovering your own truth. A kind of 'step one' in the process of self-awareness and understanding. Breaking away from opinions and ideas and thoughts just because they have been handed to you and starting to really discover your own truth. Your own ideas and thoughts and opinions. Things that you value and will stand up for against all odds and all dissenting opinion. Finding your absolutes. And then trusting them. Trusting yourself first to know what is best for you and for the situation you find yourself in at the time. It might look different tomorrow than it does today, but for right now, in this moment, the way you perceive your truth, the way you understand your world, is as absolutely clear and valid as anything else in the world.

There is another side to finding the truth though, and that is expressing it to others. At some point, we are all confronted with something where we have to take a risk and tell our truth. Put it out there and speak it plainly. To let others know exactly where we stand. It could be your boss, your spouse, a friend. It could be anyone. And to do that takes a whole other set of behaviors and understandings besides merely figuring out what the truth is for you. To stand up and clearly articulate exactly what it is that you are seeing, feeling and understanding takes a form of courage and clarity and self-trust that sadly, most of us do not possess in full measure. To tell others plainly what it is you are thinking. To tell them your truth regardless of how they receive it. To bet the farm on your understanding of the world. So, first you have to have the idea or thought, to take the time to develop your understanding of something, but then you have to share it with others. You have to express it. And that can be much harder than it appears on the surface. Have you ever stopped and thought about how often you consider (or don't) someone else's feelings, or worry about how something you say might be misinterpreted or misconstrued by another person? Ever taken notice of how much content or opinion you adjust or suppress or keep to yourself because you don't want to hurt someone else's feelings, or have them attack you for your own ideas? Most of us do this so regularly that we don't even know when it happens. We have practiced the benign behavior for so long that we no longer realize how little of our truth that we are actually presenting. It's like there are two of us: The public person who is agreeable and accommodating and wants to get along with everyone, and our private self that carries the truth of us around and we only pull out and look at it when we are all alone. This impact of wanting to get along and be agreeable mutes and dulls us even more from being able to see the truth within us, but it is that plain truth inside that is the essence of both self-respect and true leadership.

Consider this....

I recognized at some point that who and what I am was no longer working or feasible for me. Personally or professionally. I was unhappy and found myself searching for answers. So I took some time and began a journey of discovery to see who I really am and to find those things within myself. To search for my bedrock truths. And I did all of that.. I looked and searched and listened for the truth of my life. I listened very quietly to see if I could hear it. And sooner or later, I did hear it. I felt the truth and recognized it as the new reality for me. That whatever it is...my actions, my behaviors, my relationships with others, all of those things changed and morphed a little, becoming just a little bit more clear because I could now see them as my truth. No one else's, just mine. But now I ran in to part 2. I have to express them. Now I have to tell them to someone, my boss, a spouse, a co-worker, a subordinate, a friend. Now, whatever my truth is, has to be expressed. Except that I don't know how to do it. I don't know how to tell my truth to someone else, especially if that telling may cause them or me a little pain. Especially if it's hard. Maybe not physical pain, but maybe emotional pain. Maybe I have to tell my boss that he or she is wrong, or offensive. But I worry about the repercussions. Maybe I have to tell my spouse that I do not agree with this or that decision. But I worry about angering them. Maybe I have to tell someone I love that they have a problem. But I worry about them no longer associating with me. All of these things make me uncomfortable because I need to tell my truth, but have with no language to do it, No way to stand firm in my personal belief without worrying about harming another person. And most of us spend a large portion of our lives trying to avoid conflicts just like that.

But there is another way...

I have a friend who can do nothing but tell the truth. It is how she is wired. Ask her a question and you will get her truth. Each time, every time. No matter how hard that truth may be, it is hers and she is solid in it. I asked her about it one day, how she could be like that, and her answer was deceptively simple. The truth is the truth and you should not be scared of it. You should not be afraid to speak it. It is yours. Do not be afraid of your own truth. It is a measure of your own self-worth. Once you know what it is, there is no value in hiding it from others. Do not worry about how they will receive it, that is outside your control. They will hear it the way they want to. But, if it is yours, then ultimately, you are being authentic. And being authentic, both personally and in a leadership role is a key to establishing successful relationships.

As we were talking about it, I asked her over and over why the way it was received was not something to worry about. I had been raised and cultured to pay very close - extremely close - attention to how others might hear or interpret my words, my thoughts, my actions. I had become so good in fact that even when I thought I was telling my truth, the words were being structured and delivered in a way that already presupposed the other person's reaction. I was using language to predict and plan their responses without even knowing it. I was not only failing to tell my truth accurately, but also failing to respect them enough to allow them to form their own understanding of what I was saying. In the end, I was presenting half-truths and shaded truths and then not liking the answers and responses I got from other people. She asked me one question. "What's the worst that can happen?" And that stopped me cold. If you can figure out and come to grips with "What's the worst that can happen", and take the fear of the unknown off the table, then telling your truth clearly and plainly becomes much easier to do. And interestingly, since I have started to present my truth, not worrying about how it is received, not worrying about the 'worst that could happen', not one of those worst case scenarios has come true. In fact, the opposite has happened. In each case, speaking clearly and honestly and truthfully....thinking only of what I am feeling and expressing, and trusting in the power of the truth itself to be correct, the outcome has always been positive. Once I stopped worrying about your reaction, I haven't had half the issues I used to. Once I took the time to discover my bedrock truths and then articulate them clearly and honestly, no matter how hard they have been to hear, they have always been received openly and fairly. Interesting....

As leaders, we all have to help our Soldiers navigate their world. It is our responsibility to do that. How can they have faith in our leadership if they cannot trust that what we are telling them is our truth? How can they believe in us if they think we are withholding from them how we truly feel or see the situation? How can they follow us if they think we are shading the truth from them? Take the time to figure out what your truth is, what you know to be true for you about how you see them and you and the situation in front of you. And then tell them. Tell them plainly. Clearly. Not hurtfully, but honestly. In the end, they will hear you more clearly, there will be less misunderstandings and a hell of a lot more clarity. They will not worry about your motive or intention and can focus on the mission and their part in it. And that is why they joined in the first place. Not to have to spend time trying to decipher you and wonder about what you are 'really' saying. They joined to hear your truth. How they receive it is up to them. But, if it is yours, if it is honestly held, and if you have the courage to say it honestly every time, then they will follow you. Believe me. It took me a long time to find my truth, and even longer to speak it fearlessly. Now that I can, it is absolutely amazing to me how it makes life simpler.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.


  1. Wow...this is so good....I suffered from the exact same problem for many years and it took a trusted person and some significant emotional events to get me to see "the light"...."just say the way it is - the truth - and hold your head up high"....the truth is not good or bad or rude and not rude....it is the truth....plain and simple....(of course make sure it is the truth and not one's misguided opinion or flawed mental model).....

    of note, Coach K (Duke Univ) has been talking about looking others in the eye and speaking the truth for years and years....that is how he runs his life and his basketball programs for years and years....powerful example...


  2. As usual - very thought provoking. My only caveat: be careful, not to become so self-absorbed that you loose all empathetic ability. Honesty is the best policy - but respect is an ever enduring virtue. Thanks, Fen - once again, you've got my head working.

  3. I think the connection that Walter draws between telling one's truth and self-absorption, loss of empathy and loss of respect is illustrative of the confusion that people often have about making their voices heard---the belief that truth telling carries with it some inherent danger to be feared; some potential harm or exclusion of others. This is a false correlation. When a person is respectful and empathetic, so too will their truth be. Telling one's truth enhances these virtues rather than compromising them.

  4. My thanks to all of you for replying and for your support of the blog over the years. I appreciate it.

    JD - I think there are a lot of folks like me out there - conditioned to navigate their world in response to others interpretations of them and never forming their own truths along the way. Never taking the time to see what the truth is for them, irrespective of any outside influence. A key to that though is that it doesn not always take a crisis to see this. Sometimes, it can happen in the smallest of ways in our day-to-day lives. Developing the ability to listen to ourselves carefully and hear when the truth of something reveals itself is a crtical first step.

    Expressing your truth is almost never the same as disrespecting someone else. What it does do is respect them so much as to allow them to form their own thoughts in response to the truth you expressed. In essence, I will not try to read your mind or guess or influence your response to me. That's not my place. I will express my truth and trust that you will recognize it as such and form your own view in light of it.

  5. I see nothing in your relections to suggest you have your own truth. Your writing resonate with contemporary ideas of Maslow and Freud, those of self discovery and self actualisation. It is the narrative of our cultural mandate born from the pluralism of western liberal democratic ideals. Most of your readers affirm your views because you seem to be reinforcing what they have learned through culture and already believe to be true.

    May I be so bold as to suggest going back to study the Book of Proverbs. This is wisdom that has seen the passage of 3000 years. You will find invaluble guidance such as:

    "Rebuke a wise man and he will love you.
    Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still, teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning." (Proverbs 9:8,9)

    Truth is not found in self, truth is discovered. Truth has a source. It is has been tested through trial and suffering. It can be hard to handle but ultimately, like all tough trials, leads to love which can only be sustained with truth. Love appart from truth is vanity, it is a beguiling conterfeit.
    Offered with love