The Trouble with Truth

I had a work conversation about the importance of telling the truth today.  The message was coming from leadership: he wants truth-tellers in his organization.  People that speak up in the meeting and tell “the truth”.  He doesn’t like people that go back and talk about their disagreement but never say so in the meeting.

Count me in with the latter.

There’s trouble with the truth.  Unless we’re talking about truth in the context of responsibility – I was the one that broke my mother’s depression glass bowl, not my sister – or as the establishment of an externally verifiable fact, truth is way too often an opinion dressed up in certainty.

How often have you heard someone start out with “I’m going to tell you the truth…” and end with some kind of criticism?

“I’m going to tell you the truth, you don’t look good in orange.”

“I’m going to tell you the truth, you’ve got terrible taste in romantic partners.”

“I’m going to tell you the truth, this project has no chance in hell of getting off the ground as it is.”

Opinions, every one of them.  They can be opinions based on solid reasoning, but none of us are in a position to know all there is to know about anything.  Personally, I’m uncomfortable with truth that isn’t about responsibility.  And, by the way, truth is not the same thing as honesty.  Related, but not the same.

So, I’m going to say it here in my quiet little corner of the world: I disagree with the notion that we should all be truth-tellers.  Extol the whole world towards honesty, I won’t argue.  But there is a lot of damage to be done by people who feel like they’ve got the right to tell you the(ir) truth.  With the illusion of truth on your side, it gets hard to see the other contributing factors that play into a situation that may or may not confirm your opinion.  Once an opinion or conclusion becomes “truth” it gets really hard to reevaluate or change.  And if you dare to disagree, the frame that has been established by the semantics of “truth” makes it so someone is lying.  No one wins.

Nope, I’m not a truth teller.  I’m over here assuming that you’re doing the best you can with what you’ve got and keeping my opinions to myself.  At least some of the time.

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The Trouble with Truth

One thought on “The Trouble with Truth

  1. Leadership here is pretty naive. Debating the company line isn’t always safe. Some folks have to go away and process before they know what they actually feel/think about new information. Part of that is kvetching. There’s a time and place for honesty, and sometimes that’s not clear at work.

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