Last weekend I was sitting around with some parents and telling funny stories about our kids. One mother dramatically acted out what her 7-year-old son has recently started saying about his 5-year-old little brother anytime he perceives there to be a partial truth on the air, “Liar! He’s a liar!” We were all chuckling about not only the mother’s fantastic performance but also the theatrical nature of all our little performers as they work to gain their perspective.
It reminded me of a talk I attended in 2019 with the Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times. A few years into the Trump presidency they were struggling with their own reaction to charges of the “fake media” while also calling out when something didn’t match the facts. He made the distinction between calling out what wasn’t true without designating the person a liar. When we follow that practice, we don’t have to determine whether someone is knowingly not being truthful or is merely mistaken.
While I generally believe in the goodness of humans and don’t assume they are lying, I also think we often don’t tell the truth.
Do Our Work
I asked someone the other day how her grown daughter was doing and she replied, “She’s fine.” Her tone and expression betrayed something a little more than that, maybe worry. It appeared that she wasn’t telling the truth either because she doesn’t know it, its confidential or it airing it is too difficult.
I find that I have to pause when I’m about to automatically answer question. As psychiatrist and philosopher Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space.” In that moment’s space, I can make the choice to dig deeper and find the truth. Whether or not I choose to reveal it or even if I just notice that I need to do more work, the whole category of what I don’t want to be honest about, especially with myself, is a rich vein of info. I just have to mine it.
Find a Kind Audience
There is an inverse relationship between our willingness to tell our truth and audiences who are judgmental, nitpicky or uninterested. At the beginning of the pandemic, I went somewhere on the bus and because they were running buses for free, I didn’t need to pay, the doors opened automatically and all I needed to do was walk in and sit down. I told my mom, “It was great, I didn’t have to touch anything.” And my mom, who isn’t unkind but is extremely precise said, “Well, you had to sit on the seat.” True, but still…<eye roll>.
But in an act of extreme generosity when someone wants to get to know us for who we really are and they let us know that it is compassion, not judgment that is waiting, it opens the door to that intimate truth. The precious individuals that offer that space that is wide open to breathe are the ones worth getting to know. And to keep knowing. And also to return the favor. To quote philosopher William James said, “It is only by risking ourselves from one hour to another that we live at all.”
And still it takes practice. Author Paula Underwood Spencer said, “If you want to be truly understood, you need to say everything three times, in three different ways. Once for each ear…and once for the heart.“
I have trouble expressing anger. I thought this might be a limiting trait in my parenting career so I’ve tried to develop my “serious voice.” Which is almost completely ineffective. But I’ve found that when I truly get angry and manage to convey it, my kids get it immediately. The other night they wanted to do a “sleep over” where my son slept in my daughter’s room for the night. After they came down the second time with complaints about why it wasn’t working, I got angry and managed to eke out, “Enough. Sleepover is over. Time for bed.” They went right to their own rooms.
It must be why we have deep friendships, committed relationships and families – so we can practice telling our truths. Hopefully my friend’s sons will get that soon enough.
For more posts like this – a little story-telling mixed with philosophy, please visit my personal blog at https://wynneleon.wordpress.com or follow me on Instagram @wynneleon
(featured photo from Pexels)