If you ask 100 people on the street whether truth is important, most, if not all, will agree. Yet, as any adult eventually finds out, knowing the truth is hard. We have much less access to it than we’d like, and often, once we discover some truth, or rather, accumulate it, we choose not to share it. Right under the rug it goes, because truth is not just important – it is also dangerous.
Truth makes us vulnerable in front of those who don’t see it, and offensive to those who don’t believe it. Significant words have consequences. That’s what makes them significant. So, what are we to do? What if the truth isn’t acceptable?
Two follow-up questions: First, what kind of truth are we talking about? Is it a truth of fact or a truth of feeling? A universal, observable principle or a shared understanding we must first agree on? This is the first of two elements determining the stakes of your honesty.
Galileo was right about heliocentrism, but, just shy of being burned at the stake, he spent the last decade of his life under house arrest for it. “Black Lives Matter” is a social debate rather than a physical one, and yet, arguing about its specifics can get you shot in the wrong neighborhood.
While it’s easier to use data to petition for a truth of fact than one of feeling, emotions are what keeps the mob holding on to their pitch forks. So either way, you’ll have to decide: How do you want to play this, and are you willing to play it down to save your skin if need be? Changing the course of history requires sacrifice, but how often do we really get a chance to do it? Pick your battles wisely, and make sure you fight in the right arena to begin with.
The second question of an unacceptable truth is “Unacceptable to whom?” Is it internal or external validation that you seek?
A new model of gravity doesn’t help the world if you don’t share it, but if you feel treated unfairly by your business partner, maybe that’s an issue to be solved in the mirror rather than a courtroom.
Sure, you can debate racism in refugee movements on Twitter all day long, but is there any importance to who you’re trying to convince? Not everyone can turn every truth into a purpose, and unless we can rally the supporters we need (or feel we must die trying), we might be better off continuing our search for the truth we know we can – and simply can’t help but – champion.
The hardest part, as always, is to admit we’ve confused feeling for fact and unawareness for injustice: The truth is a truth we’ve forged within, and it remains as malleable as ever, if only we dare reheat the iron.
“I’m a bad singer.” “I love this person.” “I’m addicted to alcohol.”
Much more so than hidden scientific discoveries or oppression from the establishment, we hold ourselves back with the stories we keep replaying in our heads. Unless it’s a law of physics or public make-or-break moment (which, today, nothing really is), however, the truth about ourselves is whatever we choose to believe – and we can change what we believe.
Replace “That’s unacceptable” with “That’s me,” and suddenly, you have a dialogue where there used to be only judgment. Sure, drinking three beers a day isn’t healthy, but it’s also a behavior you can change, no matter how real the habit might be right now; no matter how inevitable the current truth feels.
Honor the truth of fact whenever you find your pockets are full of it. Probe the truth of feeling until you’re sure you’ve got it by the collar. Defend the important ones with everything you have, and, most importantly, remember that every single thing, thought, idea, opinion, belief, and habit you carry inside yourself is something you have chosen – and you can un-choose it anytime.