The freedom of Truthfulness

Because of the power of the tongue a proverb says: “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.”

During a recent talk I asked an audience of about 150 people the following question: Who of you can honestly say that you never lie, never twist the truthnot with words or gestures, not orally, in social media or on paper? Only one funmaker put up her hand (showing with her nonverbal communication that she is lying ☺). The rest were honest enough to admit that we all are guilty sometimes.

I sometimes wish we can all be like Pinocchio: when we lie, our noses grow. Today we have forensic science, lie detectors, DNA tests, neuro-scientific guidelines and questioning techniques to help us get to truth and detect what is false.

There are so many ways in which we can bend the truth or misuse it: by twisting the facts; quoting someone out of context; exagerating, minimising or omitting parts of the truth; and gossiping and slandering. Lives and relationships have been wrecked, trust destroyed, funds misallocated, growth inhibited and reputations destroyed. Because of untruth business processes and negotiations often slow down, agreements and contracting take long, jobs get lost, and projects stay uncompleted.

Recently, Dr Nadia Marais, a lecturer in systematic theology at Stellenbosch University delivered a speech at a function of the university’s student representative council. The title was: Beware the Bullshit, pointing out how rare truthtelling is in our society, and the repurcussions it causes.

Nadia says to the newly elected leaders: “For those of us who are elected as representatives, misrepresentation is the very soul of unethical governance. It is what we should go to the greatest lengths to avoid — fight, even — because ultimately it does not only undermine our integrity as elected representatives, but also damages the very fibre of our democratic society.”

The fact is, all of us are representatives – of the occupations, bodies, families and companies we belong to, and, in a very deep way, our beliefs and what or who we stand for. Next time you want to say something, especially if it is about someone, ask yourself:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it helpful?

Let’s help each other to stay in the truth and do so lovingly. As the saying goes “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”. Whenever we see our conversations are going in a direction that is not helpful and can possibly harm other people’s reputation, or can cause you to be pessimistic and negative, let’s help each other to come back to what is truthful, helpful and positive!