The truth doesn#039;t really hurt

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 2, 2002

February has almost passed. We have again celebrated President's Day honoring the birthdays of two of the greatest presidents in our history. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both were born during this cold month of winter. Their service to our country has been memorialized, with their status nearing sainthood.

They, like other personalities from the past, have been spoken of both in legend and in historical fact. We're all familiar with "Honest Abe" and applaud his reputation for strength of character and his grit in the face of ridicule. He reportedly did not waver in the face of opposition.

We are equally familiar with the tale of George Washington and the felled cherry tree. "I cannot tell a lie" is a phrase we've known since childhood.

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How much fact is in that storyprobably none is unknown, but we continue to repeat it to our children as a life lesson in honesty. Perhaps more indicative of Washington's ethics is a statement made by Thomas Jefferson, "Washington errs as other men do, but errs with integrity."

No matter how time has fictionalized accounts from the lives of these leaders, the fact remains that we hold them up as honest men. Their personal lives may have been less than exemplary, but they remain as icons of truth even today.

Many axioms speak of truth: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," "The truth shall set you free,"

"Honesty is the best policy." On and on goes the list of such sayings we learn throughout our lives. We're brought up being taught the importance of telling the truth. Dishonesty is unacceptable. Some of us hold onto those values forever, some do not.

Even more of us alter those values to fit with ease into our daily lives. In reality, many people find it not too offensive to tell the "little white lie" but would never tell a "big black lie."

I wonder who decides what color lies are. Where is the scale which designates the size of lies? Your little lie may seem very large to someone else. And what happens when those little lies one tells, or the big ones for that matter, begin to link together. They grow and grow until the truth cannot be found. Telling lies becomes easier. Thus a life pattern is established, and it is not an easy life.

The individual who deals in deception and half-truths must stay alert, on guard, so as not to be caught up by a slip of his or her tongue. One lie perpetuates another and another until avoiding being caught in an act of deceit becomes a full-time job of vigilance. Truth on the other hand is simple, it's easy, and it does not have to be continually on guard against discovery. Truthful lives are authentic lives.

In 1998 Sarah Ban Breathnach released a book, Excavating Your Authentic Self. The book serves as a guide for those who want to live life as intended free from false portrayals or actions, a life of accountability for one's actions and words. The biggest part of such living is recognizing the beauty of being truthful with oneself and then with the world at large. The poet, Wendell Berry, encourages us to, "Be joyful, because it is humanly possible." Cannot the same be said of truthit is humanly possible.

I think one of the biggest hoaxes perpetrated against us is "the truth hurts." Yes, there are times when we get honest answers that are a little painful. We don't want to know that we look tired, old, frumpy or adjudged by any other negative. We don't want to know when others think we are foolish, ill-informed, illogical or especially just plain wrong. It's not fun to hear that we've fallen short. But we somehow seem to ask about those sorts of things, particularly when the honest answers will be less than flattering.

We seek affirmation during vulnerable times, and that is a dangerous habit if our self-esteem is fragile. It is probably a habit that should be broken. Affirmation should come from within. We should look first to ourselves to bolster our own lagging spirits.

I've always felt that if you don't really want to hear the answer, you should never ask the question. It is not fair to ask a question and then take offense at the answer. To paraphrase Harry Truman, "If you can't stand the heat, etc., etc.". It's a matter of self-preservation. But do honest answers really hurt us? Do they do terrible harm? No, I don't think so. Hurt feelings are no fun. But from them can come self-improvement. Is it not better to know that we can get honesty from the people around us rather than a placating half-truth?

Intentional deception is the cruelest of all interactions with others. The betrayal of trust is painful and demeaning. Only feelings hurt. Truth doesn't hurt, but its absence is terrible.

Carolyn Clark McGinty, weekly columnist, can be contacted at