Life Design: Truth Telling


This post is part of a weekly series about designing your life.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about telling the truth.

Over the past week, a couple of conversations with students have highlighted how tough this issue can be for kids. Imagine a student who falls behind with her school work and misses an assignment. She feels terrible about this but is unable to find time to make up the work given everything else she is doing at, and outside of, school. Time passes and she begins to believe that it’s simply not possible to complete this task. Her guilt increases until it shows up as full-blown shame and she can’t fathom having a conversation with this teacher about the missing work… or anything else. She begins to participate less frequently in class. She avoids her teacher in the hall.

As a teacher and Counselor, I can say that I am often not even aware when a student is missing an assignment. I am keeping a minimum of one thousand balls up in the air at any one moment so I’m never particularly worried about one student’s missing assignment.

But she doesn’t know that. She believes that she has let me down. The feeling of being out of control starts to leak into other classes and activities. She sees herself as a failure.

Perhaps, in the past, when a teacher asked her about a missing assignment, the student’s shame was so great that she believed her only option was to tell a lie:
“It’s at home. I’ll bring it tomorrow.”
“Oh. I thought I already handed it in.”

Yuck. We’ve all done it but it doesn’t feel good for anyone involved.

Teachers are pretty bright people as a rule. We tend to know when someone is lying to us. And because we are human beings, being lied to makes us less generous and forgiving. When we sense or know that a student is not telling the truth, we are less likely to suggest, or grant a request for, an extension.

You know what teachers like? We really dig the truth.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t really have an excuse.”
“I’ve been overwhelmed and I didn’t get this done and I’ve been avoiding it like crazy.”
“If you would be willing to give me an extension, I will hand it in on Monday.”
“School is kind of freaking me out right now.”
“I didn’t mean to let you down.”
“Could I start meeting with you at break to get some extra help in your course?”
“Actually, I think I need some help with getting myself organized.”

There is nothing, not one single thing that I have encountered, that works with teachers and other human creatures one hundred per cent of the time but telling the truth is the best strategy I’ve found for living a good life.

The truth makes most of us gentler and more understanding. We see the truth-teller as a person trying to do the right thing and we are motivated to help them reach their goal. When someone is honest with me, I experience that as respect for me and for our relationship. The truth always makes me pay attention.

Truth splits hard things wide open like a coconut.

Truth makes it impossible to stay hidden in your dark corner because the space you’ve been hiding is going to be lit up like a Christmas tree.

So I’ve been thinking about the importance of telling the truth and about kids and not only kids because adults definitely have some challenges where truth is concerned and DP and I were walking home from school on Monday and I said, “I think we need to start teaching high school students how to tell the truth.” And because he is also a Counselor, he did not tell me I was crazy and we chatted about what that might look like.

Then, in the fascinating way that these things unfold, I checked Facebook and found that Elizabeth Gilbert had written a gorgeous and piece about truth. You can read it here.

The whole world is conspiring to help us tell the hard, true things that need to be said.

If you have any insights about truth telling, I would love for you to share them in the comments below.

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