As many of my readers surmise, I am a wonderer. I wonder about this and I wonder about that. Today I am wondering about the value of telling the truth. I was raised to tell the truth and not to tell a lie. You were too, weren’t you? Sure. We all were told that lying was not a good thing to practice. But, then as we grew up those occasions arose where a lie was really a necessity. We call them “little white lies.” I even remember reading a book in seminary titled “Lying,” in which it described the art of lying and solidified the belief that white lies were okay. We all do it from time to time to keep from hurting people’s feelings or, as the book pointed out, to prevent a disastrous outcome. The example I always remembered was about a woman in a car accident whose two children had been killed. In order to keep her stable and recovering doctors told her that her children were “being taken care of.” A partial truth, but not the whole truth.
But, what about those truths we don’t speak and maybe should. In biblical times truth-tellers were called prophets and often were run out of town. In the case of Jesus his town folk tried to run him over a cliff for telling the truth. In many situations it is difficult to tell the truth without upsetting someone. And, in some cases telling the truth hurts someone’s feelings or worse yet, embarrasses them. If you want to see someone embarrassed tell them they have bad breath. Truth, yes, necessary, maybe if you happen to live with that person, but maybe not if you rarely see them. Telling the truth takes a modicum of situational judgment.
What bothers me about telling the truth is that sometimes when I do tell the truth some people look at me as if I had two heads. Sometimes I think it is because they don’t want to hear it or are in denial. Or maybe they were totally unaware of the truth and are sincerely surprised to hear it. Other times I believe that they know the truth but want to hide it to cover up some advantage they have if the truth isn’t told. Those are the worse folks because most often they are lying to take advantage of the already disadvantaged or trying to cover up a crime.
What also bothers me about truth-telling are those times when I should speak up and say the truth but don’t. An example would be when I see a parent abusing a child in a public place such as a supermarket, department store, or even in a parking lot. We’ve all seen it at one time or another when a parent yanks a child around, yells at them, or even hits them. I really want to go up and ask that parent if they are having a bad day and gently let them know that it isn’t right to take it out on his or her child. But, like many, I don’t. Worse yet, I don’t know why I don’t because I always feel guilty about it. Maybe in this violent society I’m afraid they might punch me in the face, or pull a gun out and shoot me. Something keeps me from speaking the truth.
Yes, truth telling is not as black and white as it would seem. There is a lot of gray in between and it takes a lot of discernment to know when to tell the truth and when to lie, or even when to be silent. I do hope however, that in the name of mercy and justice, we all learn to speak up and speak the truth for the betterment of our human society. There are issues of racism, discrimination, unfair practices, and bad governance when it becomes necessary to stand up and tell the truth. God help us if we don’t.