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The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

I awoke this morning thinking about the oath that we take in a court of law in the United States where people swear to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” I don’t know how that oath became divided into three distinct sections, but my hunch says it has to do with people worming their way around the truth and the desire of court officials to cut off that behavior. I think of a simple example where you are running late in meeting a friend for lunch. While driving, you call thatperson and say, “I’m driving in traffic, I’m going to be a little late for lunch.” What if there is traffic but it really isn’t slowing you down, and what if the real reason that you are late is because you stopped off at a cafe on the way, ran into another friend and talked a little too long?

  • Is what you said “the truth?” – I would say yes it is the truth since there is traffic and you are going to be a little late for lunch.
  • Is it “the whole truth?” – No it’s not, because the whole truth would include expressing that you also ran into a friend in a cafe and talked for a little too long.
  • Is it “nothing but the truth?” I’d say “no” there as well, since although what you are saying may be factually true, it is deliberately misleading and thus is something other than just the truth.
We do this all the time in our lives, only revealing as much of the truth as we wish so that we can present ourselves in the best light while still retaining the dignity that comes with being truthful. The piece of the Truth equation that I find to be the most interesting, though, is the extent to which we keep the truth from ourselves. We may like the idea of being truthful and identify with being that way, but how much do we truly want to know? We end up living our lives in a manner that is usually not very self-aware. Our lives become one long series of reactions rather than being built of clear action. I think that is an important distinction here. By being “reactive,” I mean is that there is something sensitive inside us that is getting touched or triggered and thus impelling us to act in a certain way. Action, on the other hand, is simply an expression of our true nature which comes when we are uncluttered internally, or at least acting in full awareness of our inner clutteredness.

A driving situation can serve here as a simple example. If someone cuts us off while we are driving, we tend to react by getting angry. But why? That is a question we rarely ask of ourselves, but with sincere inquiry into that question the truth has a chance to be revealed. It’s easy to say, “he cut me off, I have a right to be angry,” but that anger is nonetheless still a reaction. So why does someone cutting you off while driving make you angry? Does it feel like a violation of boundaries? If so, where does that feeling come from? Why does it feel that way to you.? Not everyone would feel that sense of violation of boundaries so there must be something about you, about your history, about your sense of self that is triggering that feeling. Are you curious? Do you really want to know, or is it sufficient for you to feel indignant in your anger response? There may be other reasons for you to react angrily. Perhaps you are still carrying around some unresolved anger and frustration from an interaction earlier in the day, perhaps anger was so common in your family of origin that it comes as a natural response, perhaps the truth is that you are deeply afraid of dying and your anger response was born out of a fear of survival, perhaps you feel powerless/impotent in many ways in your life and this type of reaction helps to mask that other less-comfortable feeling, perhaps you are feeling deeply sad about the death of a friend or the loss of a relationship and your choice at the time of being cut off would be either to burst into tears or lunge forth in anger (and anger is perhaps less-unpalatable), perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.  Do we really want to know the truth? Even if the truth is something about ourselves that we might have judgment about? My experience tells me that most of us really don’t want to turn our gaze inward, that we don’t really want to know.

If you ask people, most people would say that they want to know the truth. But do we really want to know “the whole truth?” Do we want to know “nothing but the truth?” “So help us God?” These are fair questions. Do you want to know? I do. There are places in me that I know I’d rather not see. Places that are so dark and annihilating that no candle could illuminate. Places that threaten the core of my very identity. Places that if seen might mean that I’d have to lose something/everything I’ve become attached to. Places. So many places that are potentially threatening. Yet I still want to know. Somehow I have managed to engender a love for the truth. Not just the truth that I am angry because someone cut me off while driving, but the whole truth of my reaction. Nothing but the truth. When we learn to love the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and when we are committed to living from that place, our lives of reactivity begin to slow and are gradually replaced by action.

Action rather than reaction. That feels more like the truth to me.

2 replies on “The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth”

Interesting blog, Ted. It has been my truth that I have gotten in a lot of trouble for telling my truth. Physically hurt & left for dead on two occasions. Sometimes life teaches us that telling our truth can be dangerous and I say “our” truths, because there are as many truths, surely, as there are perspectives.
I think you are very brave to write of your truth, especially since you are male and conditioned to not explore your emotions.
As a woman, it has been somewhat hazardous, even deadly, on occasion, to speak my truth. I have been exiled by my relatives and beaten by men. Hard to forget.
Beyond it all, beyond the battlefields of right or wrong, I believe the only real “truth” is love.


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