Truthfulness (September 10)


“Seek the truth without prejudice; speak the truth without fear” (Carl Schurz).

AS CARL SCHURZ SUGGESTS, BOTH SEEKING THE TRUTH AND SPEAKING IT SHOULD BE HIGH PRIORITIES, BUT WE MAY FIND BOTH OF THESE THINGS HARD TO DO. Nearly every day we are tempted to prefer comfortable lies to difficult truths, and to back away from telling the truth when the truth would get us into trouble.

I can’t remember where I got this quotation, but it is brutally frank: “A lie is told either to get some advantage to which one has no valid claim, and is in reality cheating, or it is to defend oneself from the bad consequences of an action already done, which is also cheating — cheating justice.” In the final analysis, we lie either because we are greedy or we are cowardly. That stings, but I believe it is true.

But whatever our reasons for failure in the matter of truthfulness, we hurt those around us when we lie. There is a social dimension to all our conduct, obviously, but our words are especially impactful on society. People must be able to trust one another if there is to be any peace in our communities or neighborhoods. Dishonesty destroys trust, eroding the basic foundation of society, and no society can survive very long when truthfulness ceases to be the norm. On the other hand, we never do others a bigger favor than when we make the choice to be truthful. Truthfulness (at least when it is combined with wisdom and kindness) builds better communities. As Emerson famously said, “He serves all, who dares be true.”

But we should not tell the truth only when it seems expedient or beneficial. Truthfulness should be a principle with us. It should not only be a part of our conduct but a part of our character. Others should be able to count on our telling the truth, whether it’s convenient or not.

To be this way, we must look at things from a larger perspective. Lies may seem advantageous, but truth is stronger than deceit, and eventually truth will win out. So those who build their lives on truth (neither believing lies nor speaking them) are building on a foundation that will stand the test of time. Indeed, truth is the only such foundation.

“Life is short, but truth works far and lives long; let us speak the truth” (Arthur Schopenhauer).

Gary Henry –