I just finished reading a book called East of the Mountains by David Guterson about an aging man dying of colon cancer. He doesn’t tell anyone about this including his family and figures it’s best for everyone if he stages his death on a solo hunting trip. Having been preoccupied with the truth lately and what it really is, I felt a little leaden inside reading along with this man who was living in deliberate deception, as if I were complicit in his lies. As soon as I realized this, I remember hoping that he would manage to resolve this issue before dying.
About 90% of the way through the book, the author presents the following passage which I thought was brilliantly written and also exposes the folly within most of us who not only hesitate to live the truth but who also manage to stay hidden even from ourselves through a veil of denial:
“And this was how a person aged. Suffering in astonishment the progress of the days. One moment puffed up by a blustery denial, the next drowsing in blessed forgetfulness. Ben’s life was an ocean of fear punctuated by islands of calm acquiescence, by well-lit places in which he forgot because his work or love or the mere light distracted him from the truth.”
I won’t tell you how the story ends, but I will tell you that I cried when he acknowledged the specifics of his illness to another person, in this case a stranger. I was deeply touched by this hidden man actually telling the truth to someone.
As I write, I realize a way in which this touches me at a deeper place. In my life, I have a tendency to withhold the truth from others if I think that truth will be painful to them. If I really sit with that, with why it is that it’s hard to say something which might bring pain to another, I am left with the ungainly realization that what I am really afraid of is not being liked by someone, or someone being angry with me, or with the internal feeling that I am a bad person or otherwise I wouldn’t be saying words which bring harm to another. Funny how egocentric that sounds just in the writing of it, that my words have the power to bring harm to another. Something much deeper in me knows that the truth is simply the truth, and if the truth hurts, that hurt is simply the truth within that moment. Seems I like truth when it brings ease and happiness and shy from it when doesn’t play nice. I’m not saying we should say things that we know will deliberately hurt others (being hurtful is not a trait or behavior that I recommend), but paying close attention to the underlying reasons for not saying the complete truth is a very important gesture to make if we are more fully to manifest as who we truly are.
So I’m curious to hear from you all, what are the deeper reasons (as one commenter to my last post called it “The 5 levels of Why”) for not saying the entire truth in various situations. As another commented “truth is a relative concept, shaped by genetic traits, personality, needs, and most of all our experiences.” I’m curious here about the personality and needs part – the subjective meat to this stew of truth we are always cooking up.