One thing I have not fully learned yet is that people are not emotionally able to handle the whole truth. My penchant for full-disclosure of hopes, fears or intentions can be discomfiting to those who ask “be completely honest” and are themselves unaccustomed to the same level of transparency. Few people are honest with other people about their own agenda and whether that is good discretion or dishonesty is debatable.
People may ask for the truth, but that doesn’t mean they are emotionally mature enough or able to handle the complete truth. None of us can. We may want to know, but we could not function if we knew the truth of everything. It would overwhelmed if we knew completely what people thought of us, all of what we would face in the future or understood fully the consequences of our poor choices. Lack of disclosure is not always a way to protect others or of conscious good discretion, some people withhold truth as a way to manipulate and get their way.
People are also not honest with themselves. It could be a lack of logical maturity, mental development and ignorance. It could also be a matter of emotional self-preservation and a deliberate semiconscious choice of mind or completely willful ignorance. Our minds sometimes are more aware than we are consciously aware. For example, most of us know we are going to die, our mind always is aware of this at some level and yet we are able to live in the present moment without consideration of our own mortality. Even those who are thrill seekers or get an emotional high from taking risks because of the possibility of death are a conflicted mix of natural (subconscious) fear and conscious hope for survival.
The title of this blog comes from a movie classic. The movie “A Few Good Men” is about a military murder trial. The title quote, “you can’t handle the truth,” comes from a heated exchange, a climatic defining moment in the story and you will need to watch the linked clip to understand my commentary. You will see the Colonel on the stand trying to simultaneously defend his own innocence, his honor and code. But there is a conflict in his logic that the prosecutor seeks to reveal in his questions, the conflicted claims of Colonel become very apparent and the resulting emotional outburst exposes a lie.
This is a study on cognitive dissonance. The Colonel had two sets of ethics, one for his protecting of the greater mission of saving life and another that applied to discipline within the the platoon and the one that didn’t protect Santiago’s life. The Colonel becomes emotional when his own conflicted views are presented back to him, he’s being defensive of an irreconcilable position and thus his only defense is an attempt to attack the character of his questioner. He got caught in his own self-deception.
This is more than just good drama, it is a window into how our minds work and illustrates the need for an outsider’s perspective on our own consistency applying our ethics. Most people are trying to be good, most people think they are good because they are trying to be good and do not see the exceptions they make to their ethical principles. The Colonel yells, “you can’t handle the truth,” when in reality he could not handle the truth of his own failure to consistently live up to the good ethics he claimed to be protecting.
We aren’t on trial, we do need to show discretion when we speak to others and not reveal truth. We also have blind spots where we aren’t consistently living up to the ethics we claim to hold and need to be open to those who challenge our own assumptions about ourselves and that requires humility. Our taking offense, our becoming defensive or burying our heads in the sand can prevent growth and is a form of faithlessness that kills us spiritually. If you’re religious, tradition and theological dogma can prevent knowing truth. If you’re scientific, materialistic logic and known evidence based reasoning can be likewise blinding.
Truth is something that exists beyond our own full ability to comprehend. Without truth, with tradition, theology, material evidence and facts we can only build a rational. Rationals are not truth. Rationals can be disproven with more evidence or changed with a different perspective of the evidence. We cannot handle the truth if we are unable to realize the fallibility of our own opinions or if we are afraid to have faith and trust. We must realize that we are shaped by our various influences and that those influences themselves could also give us a corrupted version of reality.
So be humble, be open to correction and be able to repent when wrong…