I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, May 23, 2010


I have been fascinated by the concept of "truth" for many years. In thinking about this post, I found that Wikipedia has a very thorough article that describes all the different ideas of what that word means (or has meant) throughout history. An excerpt:
There are differing claims on such questions as what constitutes truth; what things are truthbearers capable of being true or false; how to define and identify truth; the roles that revealed and acquired knowledge play; and whether truth is subjective, relative, objective, or absolute.
When you watch a show that has a person being sworn "to tell the truth," you see (at least in this country) somebody raise his or her right hand, look sincere, and swear to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." What does that mean

When I was young, I thought it was a simple thing, to tell the truth, but then I realized that what I thought was the truth was not the same thing my mother meant. Or what my teachers meant. What has brought the idea of this post to me is the realization that I spend a fair amount of my time trying to figure out what truth, beauty, and goodness really are. I want to be good, to be truthful, but I'm not motivated by the same desire at all times. I also want to make people feel good about me, about what I say to them. Sometimes I might think about saying something to a friend but think it might be seen as being unkind, so I don't say it.

When I was a young woman, I believed that I was compelled to "tell the truth" no matter what. If a friend was wearing a dress that was unflattering, I would tell her so. If one of my classmates did something I thought was wrong, I would confront him or her. This trait of mine was noticed and commented on throughout the years I was growing up, and I remember very well being proud of my adherence to the "truth." I felt I was better and braver than those who kept silent.

The real truth, as I know now, is that I wasn't telling anybody's truth but my own. I was a pretty self-centered young adult who had learned through my life experiences that I could make other people feel that I was smarter than they were, that I was the final arbiter of what was right and true. Little did I know that I was deluding myself.

When I was in my thirties, I was confronted by a close friend about this conceit of mine, and I didn't believe him, at first. Then as time went by, I allowed myself to absorb his message and other related events that had happened to me during my earlier years. Slowly, imperceptibly, the message began to filter into my consciousness. I realized, reluctantly, that what I had considered one of my strengths was my greatest weakness: that I what I considered "constructive criticism" was disguised one-upmanship, my attempt to gain superiority over another.

I lost many friends when I was young for that reason, and it only filtered into my consciousness slowly that the reason I needed to feel superior to others was a deep inferiority complex that permeated my existence. I saw myself only as I wanted to see myself, and I didn't listen to other well-meaning friends who tried to tell me that my desire to mete out brutal honesty had nothing to do with truth.

Discovering religion and the concept of forgiveness gently filtered into my mind, my soul, over the years. I began to think maybe I wasn't so bad for having been so thoughtless to others, but that I just didn't know any better. I realized, not all at once, that I am just a plain old flawed human being who meant well.

It wasn't until I was in my middle years that I allowed myself to be who I really am. When I met Smart Guy I was fifty, and our relationship put the final chink in the armor I had wrapped myself in, and I think that now, today, in my late sixties, I am a pretty authentic person. Today I now see young people caught in the same trap I fell into long ago, and I hope that they will one day realize that we are all capable of change, to grow from seeing ourselves as better than, or less than, our fellow travelers on the journey of life.

And today I also believe, with all my heart, that on the day I get ready to cross over to the Other Side, I will know Truth in all its glory.


Anonymous said...

What a great title for a blog. I love it. This is a great post. Really made me think.

Anonymous said...

DJan, if you have to choose between being RIGHT or being KIND, always always choose to be KIND...

gayle said...

This is true for so many of us!! Great post!

Jo said...

Oh, gosh, what a lovely post! Sometimes being honest means keeping our mouth shut, doesn't it?

My older brother is one of the most honest people I have ever met, but he has learned to walk the fine line between honesty and hurting other people. When he was a little boy, a teacher accused him of stealing a ball from her desk. He was punished for it, even though he told the truth and said he did not do it. It confused him and hurt him a lot. I guess he learned that telling the truth is not always someone else's truth.

And sometimes there is a need for a "little white lie" if it is going to protect someone else's feelings. If someone invites me to dinner and I don't want to go, I won't say, "No, I love you but your cooking is horrible and your cat smells bad..." :-) I will say, "I'm sorry, I will not be available that day, perhaps another time." I don't think God will strike us with lightning for little white lies like that.

CrazyCris said...

An excellent and thought-provoking post as usual! I wish I was more awake to think of some deep answer, but my brain feels like a zombie and my bed is calling.

Truth is a very tricky concept in that it's supposed to be an absolute, but there seem to be so many variants... Doesn't make sense.

Truth isn't always what's best for people. You sound like your past is how I feel sometimes, except I've always managed to keep my mouth shut. I have come to recognise that "critical towards others" behaviour in myself is not a good thing, is something I need to work on, but at least I can control myself and not let certain truths slip out, or I'd be awefully short on friends. These days I'm so stressed/tired/out of it I tend to avoid some people or situations when I think I won't be able to control myself. I think of my grandmother saying "if you can't say something nice..."

I hope I can figure myself out like you did before I hit 50... :s

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Changing for the better is an all-too-rare and wonderful thing! I always shied away from saying anything "hurtful," so I had to learn to be a little more upfront in situations where that was called for. Very interesting post, as always.

The Retired One said...

That was very introspective and vulnerable for you to examine about yourself. I am impressed.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I can be brutally honest sometimes (imagine that)..what I have learned with age..on a really good day, I can have some tact. Some days not so much, sometimes I am better off not voicing my opinion..but that may be one reason that I have a blog..I can be truthful, old me.

You are too kind to be as cranky and truthful as me..perhaps I will mellow with age. :)

Lucy said...

Truth. I always told people a truth. If the dress was horrible, it would have nice buttons or fit well and so on. I think it was my way of always trying to please? I still do it. No point in breaking someone's heart. If I can't find anything good to say, I'll just stay quiet.
Truth is more about our methods of survival and we all developed habits to stay ahead of the bogeyman. So truth is an opinion. Well, I think so anyway!)

Nancy said...

This post really hit home for me. At the moment I am struggling with this same concept in a part of my life. I don't think it is fair for others to try to live up to your expectations, and I wonder how often we do that? Expect others to live up to our expectations of what is right and wrong? Which, of course, is the same thing as expressing one's "truth."

Another very well written and thought-provoking post, DJan.

CiCi said...

Wow, you are writing from somewhere deep inside and sharing your self in a wonderful way. This is a great post.

Stella Jones said...

I'm not sure that I want to look that deeply into another person's soul D-Jan. We British are so much more reserved. It's nice to know that you can analyse your faults so well and forgive yourself for what you perceive to be flaws but to bare so much for our reading is difficult for me to read. I'm glad that your analysis has brought you peace and made you ready to meet your maker. I think it is commendable of you.
Blessings, Star