Have you ever had a realization what was causing a problem between you and another person, but were unable to express it? So much of what goes on between people is based on layers upon layers of social protocol that dilineate what we can say and what we can’t, that I suspect it’s actually painful for most people to break through those barriers, even when a situation calls for truth. And the ability to recognize and express difficult emotional truth is not a skill they teach you in school — at least not where I come from.

One of the appealing qualities of fiction is the opportunity to see people, on occasion, transcend those barriers. Of course in movies and theatre the entire situation has been carefully arranged to make this possible. Such a scene is meticulously sequenced, paced and staged, culminating in an apparently spontaneous moment of truth, which in reality was written and refined by professional writers over the course of months, and delivered by a highly trained actor. Often with, I might add, very flattering lighting.

Out here in the real world we don’t have this luxury. So how do we express these truths to each other? They say that alcohol has such an effect, but “in vino veritas” is largely an illusion. We rarely speak truth when drunk. Rather, we spout convenient epiphanies that merely sound like truth to a sodden mind.

If there were a pill we could take that would allow us to say exactly what we wished to say to each other, would people take that pill? Or, dangerous as such a thing almost certainly would be, would it immediately be declared illegal?

8 thoughts on “Truth”

  1. The idea of such a pill sounds a little like that Ricky Gervais movie that got panned a while ago (The Invention of Lying). I didn’t bother to see it after reading the reviews.

    In answer to your question, assuming it wasn’t rhetorical, in situations I’ve been in where I care about the person with whom I need to discuss unpleasant truths, I look for a way to frame it that empowers us both and allows us to move forward. I also look for what responsibility I can take for the problem and be honest up front about that. When you want the relationship to continue, and you can see that the problem is not going to go away by itself, I think such conversations can strengthen the relationship. (If they don’t, maybe the relationship was too delicate to begin with). I’d also add that before having the conversation it is worth distinguishing fact from interpretation in your own mind (what they did or said vs. what you made it mean). “Truth” is a strong word. My two cents.

  2. I know someone who is lacking all those barriers (possibly partly due to a kind of brain damage.) She makes a lot of enemies, but also has some very close friends who can trust that she will never say anything she doesn’t mean. Her life is full of “drama” and I don’t think its a coincidence that that resembles fiction.

  3. For some time I was thinking: Should I put more effort into making myself better, or making myself understood better? Undoubtedly it’s hard for humans to express/perceive 100% what’s in the mind. If a person has an IQ of 120 however only able to express himself 50%, versus another person whose IQ is 60 but capable of fully expressing himself, wouldn’t they end up in the same level?

  4. Thanks for the very thoughtful comments on this post! It seems that one difference between Sharon’s approach and the approach of Doug’s friend is that Sharon is very careful to make sure that speaking truth is accompanied by a big dose of “responsibility I can take for the problem”. This requires a not just truth itself, but also a well developed metacognitive understanding of the relationship between oneself and the other person.

  5. There are several good reasons for taking responsibility for your role in the problem, including that it makes it easier for the other person to hear what you have to say and it encourages them to take responsibility for their part. Also, it is very likely part of the “truth”. If you don’t know what your role is, another approach is to say “here’s the problem…am I contributing to this in some way? because I’d like us to solve this together” If the other person doesn’t take any responsibility or rejects the conversation, well then you know where you stand.

    BTW, I didn’t mean to imply that these conversations are easy. They require courage!

  6. Oh gosh Sharon, in case I wasn’t clear, I meant that as high praise. Of course it takes courage! Hats off to you.

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