The Quaker tradition offers time-tested suggestions for fostering truthful living. They include these four: (1) Listen “for the truth in the words of others,” (2) Speak the truth as you understand it with “cordiality, kindness, and love,” (3) Avoid “gossip, tale bearing, breaking confidences, or the disparagement of others,” and (4) Resist “temptations to falsehood, coercion, and abuse.” I’m not a Quaker, but I believe that adopting these suggestions would transform the communication patterns of our families and work places.
The idea of truthful living is more than truth in relation to speech; it includes good listening skills. Listening is noticing and appreciating the truth being spoken by others. It’s hard to hear the truth, sometimes, when we’re caught up in the behavior of the speaker, or the emotion attached to the message. But listening is at the heart of wisdom and discernment.
Another detail that struck me in these suggestions is the awareness that I speak the truth as I understand it. Which means my perception, my interpretation, my analysis of the subject. When I know I’m simply speaking from my view of things, there is room for various forms of feedback, which in turn expands my understanding.
I looked up “disparagement” for you: it means speaking of another in a way that belittles or discredits them. We might just call that sarcasm or making a little fun. But is that truthful living?
Telling the truth doesn’t mean saying everything we think, of course. There is ample room in a truthful life for the silence of discretion, keeping of confidences, and the little pleasantries that keep social interactions flowing along. And words ring more true, and are heard more easily, when they are congruent with the life of the person who is speaking. You know that’s true.
Families or organizations that are concerned about truthfulness will be attentive to patterns of life together that influence truthful living. How do you model truthfulness as a parent? As a supervisor? As a CEO? What structures are in place to help us keep short accounts among ourselves? Where do we allow ourselves freedom to ask one another hard questions about important dimensions of our lives? What do we do that helps us learn to tell “tactful truths instead of reassuring lies?” Lots to think about.