Wednesday, May 10, 2006

dedication to the truth

the conversation below under this post about lying and the truth has been stirring my thoughts the last few days. while grinding coffee this morning, i realized that the heart of the matter might be something (surprise, surprise) written by one of my heroes.

all of this is particularly vivid to me in the context of a flurry of emails and a meeting we had at work yesterday (union & contract issues) that were very disturbing to me. whenever an event disturbs me at a gut level, i know there is something interesting to be learned there. part of the knotted stomach phenomenon is not being entirely sure what is at the heart of my discomfort.

i talked to various people who i respect about how it was the way things were done rather than the content of the proposed agreement that disturbed me most. it's funny: we all prefer honesty. cut-through-the-b.s. and give me scoop. doesn't it seem like the most effective way to
1)spend people's time
2)build trust
3)keep it simple
4)not get caught with your pants down

but these guys seem to have a knack for taking a carefully thought out direct question and muddling the issue until the asker is utterly baffled and literally can't remember what it was they were asking.

is this a consciously chosen, effective strategy for keeping the power to themselves? perhaps so. these guys apparently have had control of the union for about 20 years. union leaders are elected. i'm dumbfounded as to how a body of intelligent, articulate, critical thinkers (such as we believe our faculty are) can be brought to a halt by fuzzy language, vague allusions, out right lies, and wasting our time with irrelevant anecdotes. they stand before us, taking up our lunch hours with no visible sign of having prepared, and cavalierly discuss issues that are very important to us as if it were just no big deal. "leave it to us--we've got it under control--blah blah blah."

it fascinates me. i'm reduced to emailing my union rep to ask "how long till these guys retire"?

slimy is the only word that seems to apply. slimy slimy slimy. impossible to grab and shake.

anyway, i was getting to a point. what does M. Scott Peck say about dedication to the truth? here's a long exerpt:

So the expression of opinions, feelings, ideas, and even knowledge must be supressed from time to time in these an many other circumstances in the course of human affairs. What rules, then, can one follow if one is dedicated to the truth? [I added bullets for readability.]
  • First, never speak falsehood.
  • Second, bear in mind that the act of withholding the truth is always potentially a lie, and that in each instance in which the truth is withheld a significant moral decision is required.
  • Third, the decision to withhold the truth should never be based on personal needs, such as a need for power, a need to be liked or a need to protect one's map from challenge.
  • Fourth, and conversely, the decision to withhold the truth must always be based entirely upon the needs of the person or people from whom the truth is being withheld.
  • Fifth, the assessment of another's needs is an act of responsibility which is so complex that it can only be executed wisely when one operates with genuine love for the other.
  • Sixth, the primary factor in the assessment of another's needs is the assessment of that person's capacity to utilize the truth for his or her own spiritual growth.
  • Finally, in assessing the capacity of another to utilize the truth for personal spiritual growth, it should be borne in mind that our tendency is generally to underestimate rather than overestimate this capacity.
All of this might seem like an extraordinary task, impossible to ever perfectly complete, a chronic and never-ending burden, a real drag. And it is indeed a never-ending burden of self-discipline, which is why most people opt for a life of very limited honesty and openness and relative closedness, hiding themselves and their maps from the world. It is easier that way. Yet the rewards of the difficult life of honesty and dedication to the truth are more than commensurate with the demands.
  • By virtue of the fact that their maps are continually being challenged, open people are continually growing people.
  • Through their openness they can establish and maintain intimate relationships far more effectively than more closed people.
  • Because they never speak falsely, they can be secure and proud in the knowledge that they have done nothing to contribute to the confusion of the world, but have served as sources of illumination and clarification.
  • Finally, they are totally free to be. They are not burdened by any need to hide. They do not have to slink around in the shadows. They do not have to construct new lies to hide old ones. They need waste no effort overing tracks or maintaing disguises. And ultimately they find that the energy required for the self-discipline of honesty is far less than the energy required for secretiveness. The more honest one is, the easier it is to continue being honest, just as the more lies one has told, the more necessary it is to lie again. By their openness, people decidated to the truth live in the open, and through the exercise of their coursage to live in the open, they become free from fear.

(from pages 62 and 63 of The Road Less Travelled)

I love how the emphasis shifts to discipline, love, and freedom. The focus becomes the well-being of others, not our own personal comfort. I think the second-to-last bullet above encapsulates my feelings about honesty in our world. There is so little of it, and the world sadly lacks clarity, simplicity, directness that has its roots in genuine love for each other.

So should I write the professor and tell him the real reason we declined him? Could he use it for spiritual growth? Who knows. Do I feel like going and telling the leadership of our union about their foggy, opaque leadership style and what I think of it? Heck yeah. Could they use it for growth? I don't know.

Ultimately, the person most in need of my honesty, though, is me. And the honest truth of this particular moment is that this is the first day of my vacation and I slept REALLY late (the movie last night was good, but very late) and haven't showered or made progress in the direction I'd planned. It's time to get up and go get some passport photos taken.


brian said...

In the end you wonder if you should be honest with a professor and the union. I really don't want to give advice where your career is concerned, but I will relate my experience in similar situations.

I will begin by saying I think you and Mike and I have, like, some kind of Searchers Syndrome, or Honesty Syndrome. I don't know what it is: idealism, Puritanism. Do you know what I mean?

But I have found it has - almost- always hurt me to be honest in work-related situations.

I'm 39 and finally getting on a career path I believe I will love and believe in. I don't have to tell you I'm behind in this game. So I just want to say: preserve your career; search for truth in your personal life. I mean, none of us wants to become two-faced. But time is irretrievable, and I've sacrificed a lot of it in the experiment of my life.

What it really comes down to is this: if you think you can speak the truth and be safe, good; but if you think it might get you fired, oh, I don't recommend that.

But, I'm not giving advice! "You must do what you feel is right," said Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Wordsmyth said...

I wrestle with this. Honesty is important, but I sometimes feel that information should be shared on a "need to know" basis. How do I determine who needs to know, and when they need to know?

I don't know. I really don't. At least not for sure ... I just kind of go with my gut.

Somebody asked me if I had a blog yesterday. I told the truth. And then I was told "you only let people see certain sides of you", and the tone of the comment sort of hurt my feelings. Or made me feel stupid or dysfunctional or ... something. It sure as hell ruined my lunch.

I don't wish that I had lied, I just sort of wish that I wasn't asked the question.