Honesty and the truth can often be two different things.
Honesty should be a given. Anything that crosses the honesty line should trigger red flags every time, no matter how small the indiscretion might appear on the surface.
Sometimes those who are dishonest are people whose messages reach us through the ether, via television or radio or marketing or politics.
A good question when someone out there (that is, not someone close, not a family member or friend or work colleague) skirts the honesty line is this:
If they are dishonest about this, what else will they be dishonest about?
In the case of the public figure, spending a little time to answer this question (and answering honestly) can save ourselves from the pain of the further dishonesty further down the line.
For those who are closer to us, those family, friends and colleagues, a good question to approach an honesty indiscretion might be:
What is driving this dishonesty?
For those within our circle, answering this question can serve both you and them. It can bring assistance to someone who needs it. The conversation might be a difficult one to have, but as Tim Ferriss said about that, “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”
Honesty and Truth
So honesty is one thing. Honesty should be a given. Often it is not, of course, and that makes things challenging. Often we expend priceless time and energy figuring out whether we’re receiving honesty.
Honesty and truth, though, can be very different.
While we have a right to expect honesty in the day to day, truth is a lifelong search.
When you ask someone a question, they can be completely honest but still not reach the level of the truth.
Honesty can be on the surface, while the truth might need to be uncovered. It needs care in the uncovering too: it’s unlikely to be uncovered by an earthmover; it requires the care and attention of the archaeologist who brings great treasures to the surface through the gentle use of trowels and toothbrushes.
In one of poetry’s most often quoted and perhaps most profound lines, John Keats wrote: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”
Niels Bohr, the 20th century physicist and philosopher, and the man who made breakthroughs in quantum theory which form the basis of much scientific work even now, wrote, “The opposite of a fact is a falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth.”
Three thoughts about truth
- Uncovering the truth is a lifelong project, and the project needs care and attention
- Truth is more than beautiful; truth is beauty
- Truths can exist in opposite to one another. Your truth and my truth could be two stars at opposite sides of the universe
Truth, facts and fake news
Facts and honesty have perhaps never in history been more in peril.
For perhaps a century and a half the craft of journalism was dedicated, at least in part, to an uncovering of truth in the public domain. Media organisations have always had competing agendas and an undercurrent of bias, but in general there was a search for truth that existed in the craft. Journalists might call it something like “holding the accountable to account”, and it was often a noble calling, for the betterment of society.
Now, though, that ideal is being threatened from all sides: it’s threatened by the crumbling of the media business model, where news organisations must compete for attention and “eyeballs”, and so reach for the quick sensation at the expense of the slow truth. It’s also threatened by the proliferation of opinions and facts. From Trump’s “alternative facts” to data that is massaged to become propaganda and broadcast as such, we’ve never been more unsure of the facts.
But truth exists somewhere else, both beneath the surface and everywhere in the atmosphere. Truth is ethereal, spiritual. Truth can never be compromised.
Truth is yours, and mine, and everyone’s, the quest to uncover it is lifelong, and your truth is yours alone.
Best of luck in the rest of your search to uncover it.
The final line of Keats’s Ode to a Grecian Urn, of course, the continuation of the “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” line, is “that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.”
Find your truth, and know that that is all you ever need.”