by Robert Wilkinson
A dear friend of mine wrote me the other day about a moral dilemma troubling her. She asked: "Is there ever a situation when bending the truth is necessary for the well being of a person or group of people?" There were layers to her question which deserve consideration. This is a major dilemma for all who know more than they can say, as well as all who are called to say something truthful even when it looks like it will lead to a major problem. If you're interested in my response, read on.
She went on to ask: "I am not talking about Iraq, although it applies on a level. The government has a legal responsibility to be honest at all costs, so the government is absolutely wrong in the way it went about going to Iraq. I'm wondering about my question in much simpler terms. How about when a mom tells her son that smoking will kill him therefore he should never touch a cigarette, a half truth that could spare a potential addiction which could lead to death? Or a mom tell her 4 yr old daughter to stay away from the edge of the pool b/c she will drown if she falls in, a half truth that could spare someone drowning?"
How about when a mom doesn't tell her children that dad is a raging alcoholic so that the children grow up in a secure environment where it's okay to love dad? To me, that's an omission of truth that allows a household to grow up with a reasonable amount of love."
"What if a great seer only illuminates part of the truth to gently propel humanity to its next level of evolution, being careful to cloak much of the knowledge b/c humanity is not quite ready to process it responsibly? Again, this is an omission that could be a form of protection."
"What exactly do you consider truth? And do you ever find it to be evolving or shapeshifting depending on who's telling it? And is truth a black and white matter or do you find that it exists in shades of gray on occasion? And if so does this bother you? Can you think of any occasion where you either stood on truth at all costs, or only presented part of the truth knowing the it would get you the same results? Do you think that the end justifies the means in some cases, or that the truth should always be illuminated no matter what the issue or cost?"
Here was my answer, with a few edits:
Truth is often in the eye of the beholder, much like "reality." And there are unconditional truths, conditional truths, and untruths. What is true here may not be true in other circumstances. Gravity is an unconditional truth for our Earth, though it may not be on other worlds, just like we know "Life" to be carbon-based, though it may not be across the galaxy. Still, these are true as far as we are able to measure (except if we are discussing a virus!) Is water wet? Yes and No. Both are true, depending.
Another unconditional Truth is that consciousness is a one-way street. We can never become ignorant of a thing once we've realized it. We either act in accordance, or in discordance, with what we are aware of. Even if we "forget" we still bought the ticket and took the trip. We can never go back to a state of innocence once it's lost. Life experience just doesn't work that way.
There are other unconditional Truths, like evolution of consciousness, how Magnetism, Synthesis, and Economy work, and the fact that all forms pass away, every cause creates an effect on some level, and that Love is Eternal. That all particles exist within a larger field, light is the source of all that has "lived" on Earth, and so forth.
That brings us to the other two types, conditional truths and untruths:
When my grandmother used to ask me "How do I look," my answer was always "great," or "beautiful," or "wonderful," or some other compliment. I would never tell her she had on too much perfume, or that her dress looked 25 years out of date, or whatever. Was I telling her an untruth? No. I was merely stating an opinion, since in that circumstance "truth" is a judgment call at best.
If she asked me if her dress looked old, I would always tell her "You look great." or "That's dress looks really great on you." Untrue? No. She did look great to me, as well as to many of her friends. As for perfume, well, there are a whole lot of young and old people who wear too much perfume in my opinion, but should we tell someone in a mall that they stink? Do we have the right and "duty" to express "the truth" whenever it comes to our attention?
So that brings us to the dilemma of what to say when and to whom. Truth is like that. Is not telling someone the "whole truth" if it's needlessly hurtful "bending the truth?" The truth is bent by perception. Is "the truth" to be used as a bludgeon to press our point and force another into submission? Must the truth be cruel and destructive? What is "the whole truth?" We can always tell "the whole truth" in ways that either hurt another, or do not hurt another. It is all how we frame "the whole truth." And realistically, who among us really knows "the whole truth?"
Telling someone "the truth" is often a far cry from some of the examples you cite, which are more statements of opinion than fact. We should never mislead a child if there is any way to be truthful in what we say. One of the problems with the examples you cite is that FEAR is never a good thing to cultivate. We want to be firm with young children (a 4 year old should NEVER be unsupervised near a pool!) but at the same time not tell them something factually suspect, or they'll doubt our veracity in more important things later on. ("Smoking pot will lead to heroin addiction.")
Again addressing an example, smoking cigarettes MAY kill you, or it may lead to other diseases that will kill you. Or you could get drafted and go to Iraq and be blown up by an IED, whether you smoke or not. Or we may stroke out, or have a heart attack, or some form of cancer even if we don't smoke. A dear friend of mine was a meditator, macrobiotic, and genuinely altruistic guy who died of rare bone marrow cancer in his mid-40s because of a drug the doctors told his mom to take in 1945.
I agree we need to stress all the negatives of smoking, and some are so vivid that they'll make more of an impression than "it will kill you," a statement of an absolute which may or may not be true. "Your breath will stink, you'll waste your money, few will want you around, your health insurance will be more expensive than others," and so forth, depending on the developmental level. And here we have to remember that teenagers don't care. And they may even do it just to bug you, so they have to be handled a certain way. Like cut off their money.
The mom, the 4 year old, and the pool is somewhat different. That's a clear case of using FEAR to scare someone to death about water. Better that she find some other way to persuade her child not to go near the pool while teaching her how to swim! Then if the child falls into water she WON'T drown! I used to teach very young children in Florida when in my teens, and they pick it up pdq. That mom is shirking her duty to teach her children a skill that will help them survive, and even make their lives more enjoyable!
As for children of alcoholics. Well, it's usually better to have a dad than not, unless he's physically abusive. Moms too. Regardless of what we endure at the hands of our parents, it was an agreement by all in the family system to do the drama before any of us were born. So though many are raised in somewhat dysfunctional situations and we have our crazy and extreme moments this life, it doesn't have to permanently damage our psyche. Many of us may be weird, but it doesn't make us bad guys.
Everyone's parents have blind spots, weaknesses, and psychological baggage. We just learn who we're not, and go our own way in life while loving them with all our hearts in their weaknesses and their strengths. What else is there to do with our parents' flaws? They weren't raised by saints either, and when I think of the "gods that walked the earth" when mine were young - Stalin, Hitler, the Great Depression, etc. - I have great compassion that they're as cool as they've become.
All great Sages only illuminate a part of the Truth they know, since not all things can be said all at once to everyone. That's just discrimination. When in a college town in the 70s you speak one way. When you're working in a courthouse in 2007 you speak another. Blavatsky gave the world a great gift in "The Secret Doctrine." Yet she made it clear that it was a translation of only 2 of the 33 Sacred Volumes. The rest were deemed too heavy for humanity to handle by those who were and are the custodians of the records. Get the first two volumes down, THEN you get to go to grad school!
Believe me, if truth seekers want more, they will find it. Guaranteed! To the degree they are able to handle it and then some, it challenges their creative imagination, perseverence, and faith in themselves, the Divine process, and the Eternal Connection to the Great Ones. Without those, it's all vanity, since ALL "Spiritual" practices further the Oneness We All Are Together. Anything less would feed separateness, and you know how that is viewed from the higher angle.
As to your more personal questions. Does the fact that truth is hard to determine bother me? Sometimes more than others, especially when people have asked me what I think the "truth" of a thing is. I know I'm going to offend some, confuse others, disappoint others, and seldom communicate it to anyone's satisfaction. Who can put the ocean in a teacup? And the very thing all can agree on may lead some to major spiritual breakthroughs and world service, while others will run their lives into a ditch with the same information and intention. Not all Truth fits for all people all the time.
I've been in situations where I felt like Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men" in telling someone "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!" And there have been times when I've had to name the truth in the face of the whirlwind, and suffered the inevitable consequences of standing for something good in the midst of liars and thieves.
Seldom do the ends justify the means, since using wrong means never leads to a good end or karma. Think the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" here. That example can be applied in 10,000 ways. So I try to "tell the truth" as I see it, remembering always that like us all, I can be totally misperceiving a situation. Or not. As to "telling the truth," well, we must always "tell the Truth." The trick is which Truth to tell.
© Copyright 2007 Robert Wilkinson