Five Things to Remember Before Sharing Truth with Someone

truth telling

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My work with individuals — students, parishioners, and clients — is built squarely on the critical role of truth and truth-telling. Below are some of my core beliefs about truth, and these core beliefs determine how I approach the truth in my work with people. I think more people (especially, but not only, religious people) need to be aware of these principles and observe them carefully.

1. Whenever possible, truth should never be forced on anyone.

We can force truth on a person in twenty seconds, whether they accept it or not. It may take them years to discover it on their own.

It’s worth the wait.

Truth is nearly always inconvenient. It often causes us to double-check our priorities and make changes. Many people just want to do what they want to do. It is even far from certain that a person seeking counseling wants to look for it. Unless the person I’m working with is interested in pursuing the truth, proclaiming it is usually a waste of time. Moreover, when truth is forced upon a person, it nearly always damages the relationship, which makes any future truth-work impossible. Go to a “Christian” discussion forum sometime and watch all the people forcing “truth” upon each other. As a Christian this is always embarrassing to me.

Speaking to religion, there is no Biblical example of the Christian message being forced on someone else, ever. In preparing his disciples to go out and preach, in fact, Jesus said quite the contrary. (In my work I am especially fascinated with the role of religion itself in making it hard for people to hear truth. Jesus constantly pointed this out in the Jewish people all the time, and it’s no different with Christians and other religions today.)

2. Truth is much better discovered than heard.

When you tell someone a truth, they will often experience it as an assault of some kind, no matter how gentle you are (see #1 above). If you can be patient and guide them (not manipulate — there is a difference!) to discover truth for themselves, they are more likely to welcome it since it will come out of their own mind and heart. There may still be resistance to it, but far less than there would be if truth came to them from outside of themselves.

3. If you are upset or offended when the other person doesn’t listen to your truth-telling, you’re telling something other than the truth.

The grass is green. That’s nothing to cheer about, and nothing to get upset about, it’s just fact. Truth is not emotional — it just is. When you feel emotional when someone doesn’t listen to you tell the truth, your emotion shows that it’s not really about truth, it’s about you. Just as love is mere co-dependence when you need someone in your life, truth is mere ego when you need to force it on someone else. If truth-telling is really just one more way for your ego to feel superior, you have a lot of truth-telling to do to yourself. In that case, you’re attempting to remove the proverbial speck in your brother’s eye while there’s a log in your own.

4. Propositional truth has little value apart from pointing the way to personal truth.

For example, the proposition “Love is the better way” is there to point to something you need to admit, acknowledge, and claim for yourself. This process takes time. But propositions exist to capture truth in concise ways so that we can remember it and eventually claim it for ourselves. When attending university, a student hears hundreds of propositional truths. As the student matures and moves into a career, she will experience and claim more of these truths for herself. That is the process and it is irrational (and morally wrong, I believe) to violate the process by proclaiming propositional truth and expecting it to be personal truth to another person immediately upon hearing it.

5. Truth inspires resistance.

If I come up to you and say, “You are a miserable failure,” your brain will instantly begin generating proof that I am wrong. This is human nature. Any time we hear something we do not wish to hear, we automatically counter it — even if it’s something we need to hear. The more you can get truth across without firing up a person’s resistance mechanisms (defenses), the better off you and the relationship are, and the more likely it will be that the person you’re talking to will be able to be receptive to what you are saying. Jesus spoke of creating conditions of receptivity in people so that they can hear the truths he was telling them. Whether or not you are a Christian, I highly encourage you to read what Jesus said about receptivity. In addition to creating conditions of receptivity before sharing truth, it is also important to expect resistance and have some idea what to do when you encounter it. Most people grow more forceful. This almost never works. Resistance begets resistance.

Truth is such a critical part of my work that I have written a book called Living Truthfully: Discovering the joy that comes from learning to find, face, and follow truth in every area of your life. It is an in-depth look at what truth is, what it does in human life, and the various kinds of resistance we naturally tend to have towards it, as well as how profoundly it changes your life when you decide to make it your top priority to live according to it in every way possible. I am continuing to work on getting this book published and I hope when it is available, you will consider buying it to learn more about how to apply these principles to your life and work with others.

For a limited time, all who sign up for my mailing list, to receive my posts in their Inbox, will receive an entire chapter from Living Truthfully, in addition to my standard thank you gift — a 79 p. e-book of my best posts on spirituality called The Spiritual Life. I’d love to give this stuff to you and hope to see you on my mailing list. You can subscribe in the box below this post.

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  • Very well observed and stated. I find this very reasonable and agreeable. You are so right that dishing out propositional truths only makes one put up defenses and debate. I find a gentle alternative instead of stating truths, or what “I” believe to be truths is to ask legitimate questions and try to lead someone into a coop exploration into truth.

    • Thank you John. Appreciate your thoughts. BTW, I am almost done with that book you recommended by Vaclav Havel. Mind-blowing! Thanks for the recommendation.