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It’s Hard to Tell the Truth

12 October 2021

Barbara read The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self by Martha Beck and learned just how hard it is to tell truth and nothing but the truth

Tags: barbara read, martha beck, thoughtful candor

Martha Beck says happiness and satisfaction with life requires integrity, which she defines as being “…one thing, whole and undivided.” We want approval from our culture so often unconsciously we sometimes do and say what other people want rather than what we want so that we can be accepted.

Beck says the biggest step toward integrity is to stop telling all lies—"black, white and gray ones.” I’ve spent the last 18 months studying antiracist concepts and reading Black writers, so I really don’t like that she labeled the worse stuff “black;” therefore, I’ve been using the words, “big, little, and medium,” when I think about my lies.

Big lies are easily recognizable, little ones are often considered harmless or even kind, medium ones fall somewhere in between. Examples that Beck gave:

  • Big lies—selling illegal drugs.
  • Little lies—"How do I look in these pants?”(“Terrible,” but I say, “Great,” instead.)
  • Medium lies—a wife complains about her husband’s emotional distance but doesn’t admit she is having an affair.

After trying for a couple of weeks, I realized I wasn’t ready to do what Beck was recommending. When asked, “How are you?” I’d say, “Good.” If I’m not feeling good, it doesn’t make me feel better to talk about it other than with a few chosen people. Beck would say truthfully when asked that question, “I’m a hot mess. How are you?” With most people, I think I’m going to stick with my little lie; however, I’ve been trying to say more of my truth about how I’m feeling with my chosen people.

Beck says even being silent when we should speak up is also a lie. Attempting that was hardest for me because I often stay quiet to avoid conflict especially if I don’t want to exert the energy I think the conversation will take. I’m making more progress on this one. It’s exhausting for me to disappoint people I care about, but I’m trying to be braver and do that when I need to in order to take better care of myself.

She warned—if you decide to try this, go slowly and be careful. She vowed to herself not to lie for a year, and she learned, firsthand, how risky it could be. She gave up and spoke against the Mormon church, lost all her Mormon friends and family and her teaching job. Her life was turned upside down, but eventually she felt those truths set her free.

Beck says definitely don’t try this if you’re in a dangerous situation where you could be harmed. In that case, say what needs to be said to keep yourself safe.

If it is too much to tell other people the whole truth, she said an important first step toward integrity is to at least stop lying to yourself. I have admitted a couple of big things to myself in the last few weeks. It is unpleasant, but I can see how it’s helping me to consider new possibilities and solutions.

Hers is a compelling story with much heartache and eventual happiness once she learned to do what she is recommending. I am continuing to take her suggestions under advisement and aspire to more truth in my life or at least what our Allison Partners team calls thoughtful candor.

I think the biggest realization I’ve had from reading this book is that I am not nearly as truthful as I thought I was and there may be bigger consequences related to my lying ways that are worth reevaluating. I still think there may be times when little lies or saying nothing keeps the peace, but now I’m starting to think about how telling them may be holding me back.


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