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Dedication to the Truth

Map of reality

To deal with the pain of problem solving, we must be dedicated to the truth. On the face of it, this should be obvious. Truth is reality; that which is false is unreal. The more clearly we see the reality of the world, the better equipped we are to deal with the world. The more our minds our befuddled with falsehood, misperceptions and illusions, the less we will be able to determine our correct course and make wise decisions.

Our view of reality is like a map with which to negotiate the terrain of life. If the map is true and accurate, we will generally know where we are, and if we have decided where we want to go, we will generally know how to get there. If the map is false and inaccurate, we will generally be lost.

Obvious or not, we often choose to ignore this because the route to reality is not easy. We are not born with maps; we have to make them, and the making requires effort. Many people do not want to make this effort. Some people stop making them by the end of adolescence. Their maps are small and sketchy, their views of the world narrow and misleading. By the end of middle age, most people have given up the effort. They feel that their maps are complete, correct and even sacrosanct. They are no longer interested in new information. It is as if they are tired.

Only a relative and fortunate few continue until the moment of death exploring the mystery of reality, ever enlarging, refining and redefining their understanding of the world and what is true.

If our maps are to be accurate, we have to continually revise them. The world itself is constantly changing. More dramatically, the vantage point from which we view the world is constantly and quite rapidly changing.

When we are children we are dependent and powerless. As adults we may be powerful. Yet in illness or infirm old age we may become powerless and dependent again. When we have children to care for, the world looks a different place from when we have none; when we are raising infants, the world looks a different place from when we are raising adolescents. When we are poor, the world looks a different place from when we are affluent.

We are daily bombarded with new information as to the nature of reality. If we are to incorporate this information, we must continually revise our maps. Sometimes, when enough new information has accumulated, we must make very major revisions. The process of making revisions, particularly major revisions is painful, sometimes very painful. And in this lies the major source of our troubles.

What happens when we have worked hard to develop a working view of the world, a seemingly useful map and are then confronted with new information suggesting that the view is wrong and the map needs to be redrawn? The effort required seems frightening, almost overwhelming. What we often do, usually unconsciously, is to ignore the new information. Sometimes the ignoring is more than passive. We may denounce the new information as false, dangerous, heretical or evil! We may fight against it attempting to make the world conform to our view of reality. Rather than change our map, we may try to destroy the new reality. Sadly, as much energy can ultimately be spent in defending an outmoded view of the world than would have been required to correct it in the first place.

The process of actively clinging to an outmoded view of reality is the basis of much mental illness. It represents a way of perceiving and responding to the world which is developed in childhood, is entirely appropriate to the child's environment, but which is inappropriately transferred into the adult environment.

Psychotherapy is, among other things, a process of map revising. Clients come to therapy because their maps are clearly not working. But how they may cling to them and fight the process every step of the way!

Openness to challenge

A life of total dedication to the truth means a life of constant and never ending stringent self-examination. We know the world only through our relationship with it. Therefore, to know the world, we must not only examine it, but simultaneously examine ourselves.

A person who examines the world, but never himself will be competent, but never wise. The life of wisdom must be a life of contemplation combined with action. It is our capacity to think and examine ourselves that most makes us human. We are beginning to realise that the sources of danger to the world lie more within us than outside and, that the process of constant self-examination and contemplation is essential for ultimate survival.

Examination of the world without is never as personally painful as examination of the world within. It is certainly because of the pain involved in self-examination that most people steer away from it. Yet when you are dedicated to the truth, this pain seems relatively unimportant - and less and less important, therefore less and less painful, the further one proceeds along the path of self-examination.

A life of total dedication to the truth means a life of willingness to be personally challenged. The only way that we can be certain that our map of reality is valid is to expose it to criticism and challenge from other map makers.

The tendency to avoid challenge is so omnipresent in humans that it can be considered a characteristic of human nature. That it is natural does not make it essential, beneficial or unchangeable behaviour. We teach ourselves to do the unnatural until the unnatural itself becomes second nature. Indeed, all self-discipline may be thought of as doing the unnatural, but then another characteristic of humans is our capacity to do the unnatural, to transcend and hence transform our own nature.

A life of total dedication to the truth means a life of total honesty. It means continuous self-monitoring to assure that our communication - the words we say and the way we say them - invariably reflect as accurately as humanly possible the truth or reality as we know it.

Such honesty does not come painlessly. The reason people lie is to avoid the pain of challenge and its consequences. We lie not only to others but also to ourselves. Challenges to our maps can come from our own unconscious. Our own realistic perceptions may be as legitimate and painful as any challenge from anybody else. Where the challenge is legitimate (and it usually is), lying is an attempt to get round legitimate suffering and hence produces mental illness. One of the roots of mental illness is invariably an interlocking system of lies we have been told and lies we have told ourselves. Two of the most common lies that people tell themselves are: "We really love our children"; and "Our parents really loved us".

As human beings we should grow and progress as rapidly as possible. We should make use of any legitimate shortcut to personal growth. Genuine psychotherapy is a legitimate shortcut to personal growth which is often ignored. It can be referred to as the "truth game" or the "honesty game" because it aims to make clients confront their lies. The roots of mental illness can be uncovered and dealt with only in an atmosphere of total honesty.

Withholding truth

Lies can be black or white. A black lie is a statement we make knowing it to be false. A white lie is not exactly false, but omits a significant part of the truth. The fact that it is white does not make it any less false or any more excusable. White lies may be as destructive as black ones.

Because it seems less reprehensible, the withholding of essential information is the most common form of lying. Because it is more difficult to detect and confront, it is even more pernicious than outright lies.

White lies are considered socially acceptable in relationships because "we don't want to hurt peoples' feelings". Yet, we may bemoan our superficial relationships. Nonetheless, a real conflict may arise when the desire for total honesty is opposed by the needs of some people for certain kinds of protection.

The selective withholding of our opinions is also necessary in business or politics, if we are to be welcomed into the councils of power. If people were always to speak their minds on all issues, they would be considered insubordinate by the average supervisor and, a threat to an organisation by management. On the other hand, if we regard our effectiveness in an organisation as the only goal of organisational behaviour, permitting only the expression of those opinions that would not make waves, then we have allowed the end to justify the means. We have lost personal integrity and identity if we become the total organisation person.

If we are dedicated to the truth, we should never speak falsehood. We should remember that by withholding truth, we are potentially lying and in each instance when the truth is withheld, a significant moral decision is required. The decision to withhold truth should never be based on our personal needs, such as the need for power or the need to be liked or the need to protect our maps from challenge. It should always be based entirely on the needs of the person or people from whom the truth is being withheld. The assessment of another's need in this context is an act of responsibility which is so complex that it can only be executed wisely when one acts with genuine love for another. The primary factor in assessing another's needs is their ability to utilise the truth for their personal growth; an ability in others which we tend to underestimate.

Honesty is a never ending burden of self discipline, which is why many people opt for a life of very limited honesty and relative closedness, hiding themselves and their maps from the world. It is easier that way. Yet the rewards of the difficult life of honesty and dedication to the truth are more than commensurate with the demands. By virtue of the continual challenge to their maps, open people are continually growing. Through their openness they can establish and maintain intimate relationships far more effectively than more closed people. Because they never speak falsely they can be sure in the knowledge that they have done nothing to contribute to the confusion of the world, but have served as sources of illumination and clarification. Finally, they are totally free to be. They are not burdened by the need to hide. They do not have to construct new lies to hide old ones. They need waste no effort covering their tracks or maintaining disguises. Ultimately, they find that the energy required for this self-discipline is less than the energy required for secretiveness. The more honest we are, the easier it is to continue to be honest, just as the more lies we tell, the more necessary it is to lie again. By their openness, people dedicated to the truth live in the open. Through this exercise of courage, they become free from fear.

Exploration and Discussion

1. Visualise your world as it was when you were age eight. Was it closed or open, restrictive of free, scary or safe, uncertain or predictable?

2. What beliefs did you hold as a child about:

(a) Yourself?

(b) Your parents?

(c) Your brothers/sisters?

(d) Your place in the family, in school and in the neighbourhood?

3. Were these beliefs similar to your parent's, brother's/sister's or peer's?

4. When did your world change, e.g. when you left home, went to college, got a job, entered a relationship, became ill? What was happening to your world at that time? How did your map of reality change?

5. What beliefs did you hold as a child but have now discarded?

6. How do you see your map of the world today? Where are you uncomfortable with it? Where do you see a need to explore?

7. Do you feel at risk by disclosing your map to yourself, to others?