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Truth-Telling

Have you seen The Help yet?  Marvelous.  It’s one of the first times in my reading and movie-going experience I thought the book (The Help by Kathryn Stockett) and movie were both superb.  Yes, I know they’ve received quite a lot of criticism, but I think the critics have been focusing on all the wrong things.  First, the story is fiction.  It’s not saying a white woman single-handedly turned the civil rights movement around.  It’s not saying the poor black folk in the book had to rely on a white woman to save them.  Really, it irritates me when people want one book to represent centuries worth of struggle.  It’s not possible…if you have real characters, experiencing their own individual history in the context of a larger history.  The story will be unique to them.

Enough defense.

At the end of the movie, the lead black woman, named Aibileene in the movie (played by the wonderful Viola Davis) says something like this, “No one ever asked me how I felt about being me.  But when I spoke up, I felt free.”

There’s this victorious, jubilant feeling in the movie—that of standing up for truth and justice under the strains of tremendous risk.  Isn’t this always the case when you’re trying to change people’s views of yourself or other people?  [Still, amazingly enough, there are many marginalized people today, hoping for a voice, fighting to be equal.]

One thing I always get asked in writing workshops is what to do about telling your own story.  I know what he or she means, but I ask anyway, “What do you mean, what do you do about your own story?”

“Do I tell the truth?”

“Hell, yes!”

If you don’t tell the truth, then you’ll be like the ones smuggling in untruths.  You’ll become a perpetrator.  You’ll foist dishonesty upon your own progeny (should you choose to have any).  You’ll lie for others.  You’ll end progress.  End of story.

Now, I always add the additional, “There’s a way to tell the truth.  If you speak out of anger and revenge, your words will fall on deaf ears.  If you speak out of a great passion to help others, then your words will be like water on a thirsty field.”

Tell the truth.  Fight for what’s right.

Otherwise you’ll be like Billy Collins’ history teacher.  [I love this poem.]

“The History Teacher”  by Billy Collins

Trying to protect his students’ innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
“How far is it from here to Madrid?”
“What do you call the matador’s hat?”

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.

What do you think?  Are you able to tell truths others don’t want to hear…kindly?  Are you willing to lose friends over telling the truth?  Is it that important to you?

A new Living the Questions podcast went up yesterday morning.  Episode 30: What Do You Mean, I Can Plan My Future?

[Post image: Chalk by kmb43xgame on stock.xchng]

4 Comments


  1. Don Rogers
    Sep 13, 2011

    “Are you able to tell truths others don’t want to hear…kindly? Are you willing to lose friends over telling the truth?”

    As usual, you make me carefully consider what you’ve said. As a friend used to say, “Them’s hard sayin’s”. I hope that I can always tell the truth, kindly. I know that some of my former friends avoid me because of the turn my life has taken, so I guess that is true. It is a tough thing to tell the truth, kindly, and to lose friends because you see things differently now…….Still, I would change nothing. I push ahead with great expectancy of what lies in the future.


  2. Elissa
    Sep 13, 2011

    I wouldn’t change anything, either, Don. I find it freeing to be me, and I know you do, too.


  3. Terry
    Sep 13, 2011

    Loved The Help. Loved the book, the writing, the movie, the acting, everything.

    I think it’s very, very difficult to be truthful all of the time. We should always strive to do so, proceeding carefully and intentionally. For example, teaching your teens about what you did wrong as a teenager so they might learn from it, even when you’re passionate about it – you walk lines between talking down to them, being too strict, or being too permissive. (i’ve done all three) Or, if I have an employee that I need improvement with – I want to be honest with them about my expectations (this may be stretching the definition of truth, but when you’re the boss, your way is the truth, LOL). It’s easy to just focus on the negative without offering any constructiveness.

    I think it’s freeing to be truthful, but it’s definitely not easy, if you’re also trying to be respectful of others. 🙂


    • Elissa
      Sep 14, 2011

      I KNOW. Why is it so hard? Probably because we’re worried about hurting the other person…

      The whole job thing I touched briefly on in my Sept. 5 podcast, When Is It Okay to Confront Someone?

      I’ll give the excerpt here, so it might help others, too.

      Peter Bregman, an advisor to CEO teams, suggests the rule of three in business situations. Imagine someone you’re having difficulty with. Is the person continually late? Does the person do his or her part for the team? Is he or she a no-show on important presentation days?

      Here’s what Bregman says:

      “I have a rule for dealing with these types of situations — times when I’m not sure if it’s worth raising an issue. I need a rule because it’s often hard to know if something’s a big enough deal to address until it’s too late and then, well, it’s too late. It’s already gotten out of hand. On the other hand if I jump on every single issue the first time it comes up then, well, I’ll be out of hand.

      “The first time someone does something that makes me feel uncomfortable, I notice it. The second time, I acknowledge that the first time was not an isolated event or an accident but a potential pattern and I begin to observe more closely and plan my response. The third time? The third time I always speak to the person about it. I call it my rule of three….

      “If you come late to a meeting once, I notice. Three times? I bring it up.
      The first time you demonstrate a lack of teamwork, I notice. The third time? I need to better understand your commitment to the group.

      “I always say some version of, ‘I’ve noticed something three times and I want to discuss it with you.” That way we both know it’s a trend.'”

      That’s one way to deal with the situation.

      But you’re right, truth-telling is not easy, and that’s what makes it all the more important!

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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