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truth and harm
Speaking truthfully is not reliably harmless. Sometimes it will be, sometimes it will not seem so to others.
Cruelty is often mistaken for truthfulness. So is indifference. Many, many cruel people hide behind the word 'truth' as a means to hurt others. This dishonesty is like an onion.
I believe that the truth can be spoken kindly. I believe that the truth can be loving. I believe that the greatest truths - the most accurate truths - contain a larger portion of love than most people realize. How can you understand the truth of something unless your heart is open to it?
There is, in Speaker for the Dead, an idea I like very much. The speaker tells, at their memorial, a dead person's life story. This is not the story that everyone believes or knows or ever talks about. It is the whole story with the pleasant parts and the unpleasant parts and the known parts and the secret parts, all of them, the person's whole life. Sometimes the listeners are shocked. Sometimes they are embarrassed. Sometimes they are angry. Sometimes they are relieved. The person's whole life, the person's whole self, is acknowledged.
The speaker often is not very popular after such a service.
We are not called to speak other people's truths for them. Even the speaker for the dead spoke only when requested to do so.
We are called to speak our own truth, and that is hard enough. We are not our own best speakers. We are too kind on the one hand, and not kind enough on the other.
I think it's important to remember that often 'the truth' we tell about ourselves is not even close. Many times it rationalizes unworthy acts, explaining in great detail all of the circumstances that render the act acceptable. Often 'the truth' we tell about ourselves is very unkind, and much less accurate than a kinder view would be. And then there are the things we do not speak of at all.
When we tell our truth, perhaps the best we can hope for is that it is a loving truth, an accurate truth, kindly told. When our truth overlaps with someone else's it can be uncomfortable for the other. We can only apologize for causing them hurt and hope that they have learned to know us well enough to trust our intentions. We can work harder to see the truth that really is. There may be excellent reasons for not telling a story, but once we have determined that we should, we must do it as well as we can.
One of the reasons I love the movie Courage Under Fire is because of what I think it means: the truth shall set you free. In it, a partial truth, an unkind truth, an incomplete truth destroys the main character; only after the whole truth is told can he heal and move forward. Someone else must speak this truth to him. It is too painful, he has not been able to get past the terrible part of his story to the end. The end of the story doesn't change the painful part. That part will always be painful. But the end of the story allows him to heal.
It is a movie about telling the truth accurately, and it is a movie that reminds us that how we tell the story and where we choose to end it changes its power and its meaning, sometimes transforming it from something that destroys to something that can heal.
It is possible that something that seems harmful to another today may be seen as a healing force in the future.
It is possible that it will not.
If we can vow not to hide cruelty behind 'truth-telling'; if we can dedicate ourselves to learning to discern an accurate truth - one that is complete; and if we work to learn to tell our truths with great love, I believe that we can trust that our truth will be as harmless as truth ever can be.
When those who choose to speak tell the best truth they can, I believe that each of us is freed to become a little more himself. And when together we listen as honestly and as lovingly as we can to the good, imperfect truths that others attempt to reveal, I believe that all of us move forward together, stronger.