THE TRUTH MUST HURT
ROBERT J. LEWIS
man is always prey to his truths.
Once he has admitted them, he cannot free himself from them.
lie can travel half way around the world
while the truth is putting on its shoes.
we look into the mirror, why do we refuse to see what is there?
Why can’t we bear to learn the truth about ourselves?
Or to the bleeding heart of the matter, why do we have so much
difficulty dealing with negative truths, some of which arrive
with such force they take our breath away, and
in extreme instances take possession of us, leaving us no peace
during the day and even in sleep. It seems that no matter how
small or incidental the clipped criticism, the oblique rebuke,
we cringe when we hear the truth spoken about ourselves –
even if we have already privately acknowledged that we are parsimonious,
overbearing, envious, self-righteous, vainglorious and vindictive.
truthers, as it concerns everyone other than their higher-than-holy
selves, insist we are better prepared to deal with the many
curves life throws at us in direct proportion to the number
of truths we have at our disposal. “He who knows others
is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened,” observes
why the reflexive resistance to the hard facts as they relate
to self-knowledge? Since the truth, sung and spoken, is supposed
to set us free, why is man everywhere apparently happier in
chains, preferring to drag after him the dead weight of his
delusions, or be slowed down by the heavy armour he wears to
protect himself from the cathartic effects of being exposed
to truth. Albert Einstein held that, “Once we accept our
limits, we go beyond them.” And go beyond, he did –
at the speed of light.
after a remark that cuts to the quick and rudely reminds us
that familiarity breeds contempt, we become privy to an object
lesson that the truth shall not cease from waging an undeclared
war against its many enemies: the white lie, the euphemism,
the circumlocution, the politically correct palliative, especially
when delivered with love and compassion: a parent desiring and
willing what is best for a child, a coach wanting to bring out
the best in his athlete.
good news (in theory), which is bad news in practice, is that
most of us are equidistant -- "just a shout away"
-- from the source, meaning we need look no farther than to
our immediate family or blood-line for the truth: in our formative
years from a mother and father, an older brother and sister,
and then between husband and wife, perhaps a best friend, an
ever widening gyre that explains why every family harbours an
unspecific measure of dysfunctionality. As beneficial as the
truth is hyped to be, most relationships either suffer under
or cannot survive especially repeated exposure to negative truths.
outrageous as it must seem, are we forced to conclude that natural
selection has favoured a species that shirks, turns away from
and even hides from the truth (self-knowledge), that man would
rather be lied to, deceived than learn about himself? How do
we square this species-specific disinclination with the self-evident
proposition that we are more likely to survive and succeed in
life if we acknowledge our limitations, flaws and faiblesses,
that being self-aware is manifestly an advantage that knows
no eclipse? But instead, when the truth is spoken, we duck and
counter, scapegoating the messenger upon whom we heap our resentment;
and sometimes even punish for his forthrightness -- an all too
familiar scenario that suggests, with a friendly nodding-off
to Freud, that the pleasure principle takes precedent over any
avoidance models, psychological no less than physical, predict
that we will seek out the white lie, the comforting falsehood
because we would rather feel good than (k)not, despite the empirically
observable fact that we are much more likely to succeed in our
endeavors if we perceive the truth for what it is, that the
individual who has come to terms with the full gamut of his
limitations and defects is more likely to make better choices
and achieve better outcomes than his self-unaware counterpart.
negative truths, especially in accumulation, can lead to negative
self-esteem and depression, which impair the immune system,
which in turn impact negatively on one’s productive life
as well as personal relations, most of us, at the behest of
the pleasure principle, will seek out 'only' feel-good criticism,
even if it is manifestly baseless. But the lie can only travel
so far before breaking down. Nature sees to that in the world
of measurable outputs and consequences, the lie will eventually
get ensnared in its own subterfuge. If a friend, unwilling to
rock the boat of friendship, assures me that I am an invaluable
asset to the team, when, because of my lack of discipline I
am not, the results will show in the win and loss columns. However,
if at a team meeting the truth is told to my face and I am subsequently
shamed, (pained, embarrassed), I will naturally want to relieve
the pain, and as a first consequence I will practice harder
and play better, which will translate into the team’s
better performance, and provide a boost in satisfaction to all
those involved in the result.
it concerns our uneasy relationship with negative truth and
desire to be self-aware, we must distinguish between truths
that are fixed and those we can modify. Since there is nothing
to be done about a physical defect that is brought to my attention,
being reminded of it, especially in the public domain, not only
serves no purpose but reveals more of the messenger than his
message. However, as it concerns negative truths where there
is always the option of responding in kind, they should be welcomed,
despite the initial hurt, because the lie, however well intended,
will produce no improvement, and we will suffer the want of
pleasure that goes hand in hand with self-improvement.
certain relationships, for fear of hurting someone’s feelings,
it is all too common that in the course of a life-time an individual
never learns of certain truths that are essential for his development.
But nature sees to it, however elliptically, that the individual,
in the privacy of his thoughts, is provided the means to access
those essential truths. He merely has to examine the objects
of his envy to discover truths that would otherwise remain hidden.
If X envies the compliments and praise a better teacher receives,
he is already confessing to a deficiency in himself, and as
a consequence, may become motivated to relieve the envy and
attendant hurt by taking concrete steps to improve his teaching
skills. This outcome is consistent with the notion that recognizing
truth (seeing reality) as it pertains to the self is directly
related to success and fitness, which is consistent with evolution’s
first purpose. In other words we can choose to stew and stagnate
in our envy (remain in pain) or use the emotion to better ourselves,
the result of which confers pleasure.
As the pleasure principle predicts and whose rewards we cannot
refuse, in the spirit of pain avoidance there will always remain
truths about ourselves we would rather not confront -- most
of them of very little consequence. If I don’t want to
know that my neighbour, with whom I have minimal contact, doesn’t
particularly like or respect me, it’s no big deal if I
don’t acknowledge these truths. However, if I convince
myself that I’m an excellent teacher, when I’m not,
and will lose my job if I don’t improve, through the ingenious
mechanism of the corrective dream I will confront the mood and
atmosphere of the truth I’ve been avoiding in my waking
symbols, or a disguised or parallel environment or situation,
a dream will dupe me into confronting my inadequacy. It is winter,
under heavy snow, in the middle of nowhere, and I am unable
to repair my car, which threatens the lives of my wife and children.
Upon waking, even if I have forgotten the details of the dream,
I will register discomfort and distress, perhaps enough so to
motivate me to question the dream and connect it to my performance
deficit. If I remain in denial, the dreaming mechanism sees
to it that the urgent message gets a better hearing by way of
the nightmare from which I will rudely awaken, with its stark
details fresh in my mind. If this fails to impact, the nightmare
will become a recurring nightmare, until I either act on it
or crash in my waking life. In this same vein, all children
experience nightmares as they reluctantly relinquish their fantasy
life and begin to interact with the real world. The nightmare
is nature’s last stand against the lie, and the individual’s
last chance to relieve himself of the pain of the lie he is
the truth must hurt is the necessary means to the fugitive end
of self-awareness, without which life promises to be one long
day’s journey into one dark alley after another -- until
the last alley from which there is no exit.