It is easy to say that we want the truth. No one particularly likes being lied to, after all. No one likes to have their trust betrayed, or to have people talk about painful things in secret while pretending everything is fine in public. People uniformly detest hypocrites and pretense. And yet the habit of deception is all too easy for all of us to fall into because the truth is not seen as worth fighting for or suffering for. All other things being equal, we prefer truth to lies, but all other things are never really equal, either in economics or in life as a whole.
We must ask ourselves, before we lambast lies and fictions, whether we really want the truth. A lot of truths are hard to say, and have to be said well and with a great deal of delicacy. In part because I have a well-earned reputation for being a blunt speaker of what I think and feel to be the truth, other people are generally pretty blunt with me. I do not mind what is said (in general it has been helpful advice), except that I wish people would be so blunt about the good truths as they are about the bad ones. Then again, I know all too well that good truths require their own delicacy to tell, their own fears and insecurities, and bad truths, because they inspire anger within us, are easier to be blunt about. We assume the good truths are obvious and feel the need to express the bad truths. Even when this is so, it leads to an imbalance in our conversations because.
Before we can decry deception in others, we must make sure that we are the kind of people who can handle the truth. This is all the more important if we are in the position of authority. If we show an oversensitivity to painful truths, or encourage (whether openly or tacitly) other people to attack truthtellers on our behalf, then we will not hear the truth from anyone, and will consider any bluntspoken person to be a threat to our well-being and legitimacy even when (and especially when) this is not the case. It is a sad irony that those who are the most ferocious truth tellers are often the least ambitious themselves, except that they have a tragic compulsion to speak and write difficult things.
It is fair to ask where this compulsion comes from. After all, in a place and situation where truth is actively punished, it is easier to lie. Everyone claims to hate the lie, to abhor lying liars and the lies they say, but when push comes to shove, the vast majority of people will find it easier to lie than to be committed to truth in the face of grave danger. Whether it comes from an extreme sensitivity to truth that others do not possess, a certain tragic impulse to fight against evil in high places, despite our weaknesses, or even a certain insane sort of stubbornness that refuses to play along with the polite fictions that lie beneath normal discourse, it is largely irrelevant in its practical effects. To those of us with that compulsion, whether in large or small matters, the results are the same wherever the impulse springs from.
If we are in a situation where the truth is punished or used as a weapon in the absence of love and respect, we have to recognize that such a situation is an abusive situation that is unacceptable. If we make it clear to ourselves and others that we want and need to know the truth, and will not be angry at truth tellers, but rather be motivated to tackle those truths and resolve the existing problems that lead to those unpleasant truths, then it is not too difficult to encourage an atmosphere of trust and honesty. It may be uncomfortable at first, and for a while, but if we are committed truth, we have to be committed to dealing with the awkwardness rather than running away from it.
It really is the responsibility of leaders to make sure that they encourage truth telling from others and will not punish others, or permit others to be punished, simply for telling those things that are of a delicate and unpleasant nature. If it is clear from the top that truth is to be celebrated and encouraged, the difficult task of developing the habits of respectful truthtelling can take place, without either silence or violence. If this commitment is not present at the very top level of a family or an institution or a society, most people will not be willing to suffer to tell the truth, only those who are the most stubborn or fierce about it.
Those of us who believe that the whole world has been deceived, and that we possess the truth ourselves, have a special obligation to ensure that we are not cut off from the truth from other people. After all, if we profess to tell the truth to others but will not be able to hear or accept the truth about ourselves, we will shown to be the worst sort of hypocrites. And no one likes that at all. We ought not to like that in anyone, nor ought we to tolerate that sort of hypocrisy in ourselves. It is easier to lie to ourselves and to everyone else than it is to be committed to the truth, whatever it is. But that which is worthwhile is not easy, and we should not heap burdens on other people that we cannot bear ourselves.