Truth: Friend or Foe?

There is a certain concept that we encounter frequently in our daily lives. Although most people profess to embrace it, in reality most abhor it, and will try all ways and means to rid themselves of it.

What is this concept?

I’m talking about the truth.

Now, most of you reading this must be thinking: What? Who says I don’t embrace the truth? I don’t tell lies. I don’t do anything dishonest.

This brings an interesting question to mind: What, exactly is a lie?

Hypothetical Scenario:

Person A wakes up late. He rushes to get dressed, and runs down to the train station to get to work. Along the way the train suffers a mild breakdown which sets him back by about 5 minutes. He ends up reaching work a whole hour late. He gets grilled by his boss, who demands to know the reason for his tardiness.

Is Person A going to tell his boss that he was late because he woke up late?

No. No, he’s not. He’s going to say “Oh, uh, there was a train breakdown.”

Notice that he doesn’t say “I’m late because there was a train breakdown.” Person A is too truthful for that. Person A doesn’t tell lies. All Person A said was that there was a train breakdown, and his boss most probably let it go at that. Everyone’s happy, problem solved, let’s get on with our lives.

Except that this isn’t a one-off occurrence. It’s a daily occurrence, and for most people these situations occur more than once daily. We don’t tell outright lies, but we tell half-truths, leaving out the most critical piece in the puzzle that would bring the whole house of cards crashing down.

Some people think that the truth can be hidden with a little cover-up and decoration. But as time goes by, what is true is revealed, and what is fake fades away.

– Ismail Haniyeh

In most cases, no harm is done. It would be so bothersome to explain every minute little detail to everyone just for the sake of being 100% truthful, yes?

But when you consider the effect that telling lies – Yes, a half truth is a lie – has on your personality, it may be a good idea to reflect on whether we want to continue on such a path. Consider further the effect when the person you’re lying to is yourself.

By and large, people are afraid to face the whole truth. Why? Because as the saying goes, the truth hurts. You’ll get no argument from me, the truth does hurt.

Nobody ever goes beyond this point. Everyone knows the truth hurts.

A remark generally hurts in proportion to its truth.

– Will Rogers

But just why does it hurt?

Some of us may be familiar with the Zone of Control, sometimes known as the Sphere of Influence. This represents the things you have control over, the things which you can influence and effect change in. Many people have an incorrectly-sized Zone of Control. Either they believe that they cannot change anything, and become embittered and depressed at being buffeted every which way by the winds of life. On the flip side, they might believe they can affect any change they desire, and go as far as to exert an unhealthy pressure on their peers and loved ones to shape the world around them as they see fit.

Both ways lead to failure. For the first group, they become fully passive about everything, choosing not to take any steps in any direction, not content with the status quo but feeling powerless to change it anyway. For the second group, they begin to worry about everything: the weather, the sleeping cycles of their children, how long their subordinates should work overtime. And when they realize that many things in life are not really under their absolute control, they become jaded and depressed.

Both paths lead to an embracing of half-truths and sometimes outright lies. “I can’t get anything right.” “I don’t think I can do that.” “It’s too (insert excuse here).” And for the flip side, “I can guilt trip my son into studying hard for the exams.” “I’ve thought of every possible worst-case scenario and planned for it. I’m in total control here.”

We have to stop kidding ourselves.

The truth can hurt, but get this: The truth can be your strength, if you let it.

So what’s the key to this? How do we ensure that the truth doesn’t hurt?

The key is to have a correctly-sized Zone of Control. How big should this Zone of Control be? Well, here are some guidelines:

1. We do not have the ability to control other people. This includes changing them. We do NOT have the ability to take into account all the possible factors that may cause an event to unfold in a certain manner, or for someone to do a certain thing, or for something to happen.

2. We do have the power to control ourselves. This includes changing ourselves.

Here’s an example, chosen for its universal relativity, which I am going to use for the remainder of this article. You’ve been gaining weight the past few months, and it has reached a point where you have to either buy bigger clothes, or slim down. You have many options at your disposal, but for the sake of simplicity I am going to narrow them down to three broad options.

A. You hit the gym and start cutting down on carbohydrates in your diet in order to lose weight.
B. You buy bigger clothes, believing that getting fat is a natural part of growing older.
C. You do everything in option a, but at the same time you try to pressure your close friends and family through guilt-tripping into hitting the gym and cutting down on carbs.

The path of passivity:

In this case, option B means we believe we have no power to change our bodies and our lifestyles. By believing that getting fat is a natural part of growing older, that gives us the leeway to take the “Oh but I can’t fight it anyway” route.

People who choose option B really become fatter as they age, and probably get all sorts of health related problems as they do. In addition to this, they’ll be telling themselves that these health related problems are a natural part of aging as well. Two untruths for the cost of one choice of inaction.
The path of control-freaks:
Option C contravenes the first guideline, where we believe we’re entitled to control other people and exert the same pressures that we exert on ourselves. This is undoubtedly a tempting route, because if losing weight through healthy eating and exercise is a good thing, it should naturally follow that this is something that everyone should be doing, if they are not already.

People who choose Option C will be constantly upset due to everyone around them resisting their efforts. They will have fallen into the insidious trap of believing that there is such a thing as a one-size-fits-all solution, and that they are the ones who are meant to enforce that solution upon others ‘for their own good’. Everyone is different, and it’s down to each individual person to decide the path they want to tread. No one else. Every choice has a consequence, and we must understand that just as we have our own choices to make and consequences to bear, so do other people.

Option A keeps our Zone of Control at the optimal level: It is as big as ourselves, and it is as small as ourselves. We take responsibility for everything that we do, and relinquish responsibility for everything else. We may hit the gym and sprain our ankle. Maybe we’ll feel hungry after going a bit overboard with cutting down on the carbs. The important thing to note is, you can’t control how the result will turn out. That’s an undeniable fact. It is possible that you can try your very best and still not achieve what you set out to do.

That may be so, but let’s get things in perspective. With respect to the example provided above, is it better to try to lose 5kg and lose only 3kg, or just not try at all? It’s easier to tell ourselves the lie that there’s no point trying to improve ourselves because we don’t have any certainty that we’ll succeed. This is true, but if we turn it on it’s head, we don’t have any certainty that we’ll fail either.

That’s the key: We don’t know unless we try.

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

– Thomas A. Edison

This is not to say that trying and failing isn’t going to result in us getting hurt. Of course it will. But if we have the correct size for our Zone of Control, we’ll know enough not to feel dejected, because we’ll know that it wasn’t our fault that we didn’t hit our desired result. At the same time, we’ll have that knowledge deep down that we tried our best, and that is something indisputable. That belief that we have done all we can is a powerful thing.

Focus on expecting ourselves to put in the effort required, rather than expecting a particular result. We can control one, but not the other.

Accepting the harsh reality of our existence and embracing the Whole Truth is akin to a piece of metal being worked on in a forge.

Like the piece of metal being worked on, accepting the truth can be painful. It can burn you. Some parts of you may be unable to handle the heat, and melt. These are the weaker parts of yourself, the parts you don’t need. Then comes the hard knocks of life, similar to the blacksmith banging on the metal with his hammer.

Accepting the truth can be an arduous and painful process, but consider when the metal comes out of the forge. After the blacksmith is done with it, it is no longer just a hunk of metal – it’s a sharp, tempered sword. One that has faced the worst that the truth has had to offer, and come out stronger because of it. And like a sword, it can used far more efficiently than a glob of metal in cutting a path through life’s obstacles towards our dreams and goals.

On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.

– Friedrich Nietzsche

And in case you are wondering, this quote is the reason why the featured photo is that of a mountain. I know, I know – it is a nice mountain, isn’t it?

To read more about how expectations can affect one’s happiness, click here.

To read more about how fear can stop us from living the life that we really want, click here.

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