Leadership coach Joseph Grenny has stated that one of the largest obstacles to meaningful conversation around difficult topics is the tendency to substitute facts with stories we’ve told ourselves about the facts.
We are amazingly creative in devising the most intriguing narratives based on nothing verifiable. To illustrate, a husband who comes home late may be accused of having an affair even though the facts indicate he was working overtime and secretly stashing money to surprise his wife with a cruise.
Historian Timothy Snyder from Yale University declares the loss of truth to be deadly. He says: “You submit to tyranny when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case.” You want taxes to go down, so you swallow the promise even though you know it’s a lie. He lists numerous examples where the endless repetition of lies results in them becoming accepted as fact even though no one believes them to be true.
Somewhere along the way, we have not only lost truthfulness as a deeply revered value, but much worse — we have lost the expectation of truthfulness, and dare I say, even a passion for it. We expect to be lied to and no longer feel violated when we are.
We live in a society dominated by spin doctors, carefully Photoshopped profile pictures and a clear expectation that our leaders will brazenly lie to us, even under oath.
It’s no wonder we find it so refreshing when we come across that rare individual who tells the truth. Sixteen years have swiftly passed but any long term Okanagan resident who experienced Firestorm still speaks fondly of Fire Chief Gerry Zimmermann’s candor in his daily briefings. “Finally,” we all thought, “a leader who will tell us what’s really happening instead of reciting a carefully managed script.”
It’s been interesting to note that when caught in a lie, a common response is to say, “I was only joking.” It’s interesting, because a couple thousand years before the time of Christ it was already common practice. The ancient Book of Proverbs says, “Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbour and says, ‘I was only joking.’” It seems we’ve not made much progress on the truth front in all this time.
Jesus of Nazareth had two things to say about truth that ring true to this day.
In His most famous sermon, He instructed people to stay away from elaborate oaths and promises. His comment was to just let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” In fact, He said that anything beyond that likely comes from a dark place and from the evil one.
Cultivate a habit of pure integrity.
His second comment has become a famous quote, which has unfortunately been largely ignored. He said, “The truth shall set you free.”
This saying has multiple levels of meaning but even at its most basic interpretation there is a freedom when you tell the truth and don’t ever have to worry that another side to the story will emerge.
The problem with lying is the constant need to remember which lie you told to whom.
I’m not sure what it says about our culture but the more complex the times the more important it’s becoming to find and hang with people who are simply honest.
Tim Schroeder is a pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Kelowna. This column appears weekly.