“Don’t underestimate the power of your speech. Don’t underestimate the power of truth. Tell the truth. Or at least don’t lie; that’s a start. In order to speak what you might regard as the truth, you have to let go of the outcome. …[You have to decide:] I’m going to state what I think as clearly as I can and I’m going to live with the consequences no matter what they are. That’s an element of faith. The idea is that nothing brings a better world into being than the stated truth. Now you might have to pay a price for that, but that’s fine. You’re going to pay a price for every bloody thing you do and everything you don’t do. You don’t get to choose not to pay a price. You get to choose which poison you’re going to take. …It is not safe to speak. It never will be. It’s even less safe not to speak. It’s a balance of risks.” – Source
My favorite photo from our wedding is right after we were pronounced married and were exiting the scene of the ceremony.
The scene of the ceremony was my parent’s backyard. Newly planted azaleas edging a gently sloped yard. A quiet field as a backdrop. Trees green and heavy with the late summer air. Our friends and family sat on white plastic folding chairs. We stood underneath towering pines and did all the ceremony things.
Joe and I turned and looked at the guests. Everyone was smiling. It was done and said and our life was ours and we could begin it. We looked at each other and, without a word, with an eyebrow raise and imperceptible nod, agreed.
Then we took off running.
Racing, laughing, holding hands, catching the surprised faces as we raced by, listening to the laughter and shouts behind us.
One of my shoes came off.
We got to the top of the hill and tried to go different directions, still holding hands, unwilling to let go, working against each other for a moment until we adjusted and eased and took our next step together. You can find a lot of marriage metaphors in that moment.
We ran around the house and into an empty room, laughing and kissing and crying and so glad, so very glad, to be together, to be going, finally, to be moving forward, running together, staring life in the face, on our own terms.
We had no idea what was ahead.
Do we, ever? Can we know?
And if we could know, would we be able to live at all? Could we call that living?
Any future perfectly known, said Alan Watts, is already the past.
But life is not in the past. Life is now, life is here, life is this moment.
And the only way to live it, really, is to be as truthful as you can be.
Doing anything else is not living or being in the moment. Anything less than truthfulness is an attempt to distort the past or control the future. And when you’re busy trying to distort or cover or change the past, you’re not in the present. When you’re focused on managing and controlling the future, you’re not in the present.
You are in a time that does not exist–past, or future. When your attention is there, it is not present in the only time that does exist. Right now. This moment. When you focus on the past or the future, you opt out of existing in the present. As long as you choose to stay there, in the not-now, you don’t exist in the now. (And since now is all that exists, we might even say you opt out of existing at all. Until you return to what does exist, the present, now.)
Marriage, or any kind of commitment, is a big moment for telling the truth.
It can be. It’s supposed to be a truth-telling moment, and we make it solemn and sacred because we recognize something important about telling this particular truth.
The truth that I am choosing this person above all others. I am entering an agreement, I am publicly demonstrating a relational contract.
We have rituals and ceremonies for many occasions that are essentially about public declarations of truth. Swearing an oath on the Bible before you give testimony. Getting a document notarized so it’s valid. Signing a contract to buy a house. Filling out paperwork to get a job.
All of these are, in a sense, ritualistic. We could have simple phone conversations or send emails. But that’s not good enough. It’s not good enough because there are decisions being made on the basis of the information being exchanged.
We want to know that the information is valid.
We want to know that we have the truth.
So we put rituals and requirements in place to convey how important telling the truth is, in these situations. We add a sense of formality to a process. We do this in an attempt to guarantee that we’re getting the truth.
Then we feel more confident about making the decision.
But there’s no guarantee we’re getting the truth, even in the midst of ritual and ceremony and formal requirements.
And there’s no guarantee we’re telling the truth, to ourselves or to each other.
When we do tell the truth, there’s no guarantee that the outcome will be positive, or desired. In fact, sometimes we can predict accurately that the response to telling the truth will be negative, painful, the opposite of what we want.
Our character as honest people is determined in those moments: do we tell the truth and let go of the outcome? Or do we hide the truth in an attempt to control the outcome?
The scariest thing about telling the truth is that it brings clarity.
Sometimes clarity is the last thing we want.
Confusion and uncertainty are tools of denial.
Denial is resisting the truth.
Short-term denial is helpful, a coping mechanism that enables us to survive tough or traumatic situations. Denial gets us through the funeral, the difficult conversation, the deadline. Denial, in these cases, is a pause, a temporary holding back of the truth of all we feel and think. It allows us to focus, do what we must do, get through the moment.
The idea is that we must then stop the denial and allow the truth to be seen, felt, heard, and expressed.
When denial becomes a habit, a way of life, truth gets shunted into dark corners.
It waits and waits for a chance to step into the light.
The truth about truth is that it’s scary.
Letting go of outcomes feels impossible to someone who is already uncertain, hurting, and afraid. When you are in crisis, when you are isolated, when your wounds have never healed, when you doubt your worth, when you feel dependent on outer circumstances and relationships to make you feel safe, how can you release that control? How can you take the risk?
To tell the truth is to face your fears. To tell the truth is to express your feelings. To tell the truth is to state your opinions, preferences, desires, and hurts. To tell the truth is to draw lines in the sand.
What happens when you draw a line?
Perhaps you end up on one side, and the person you love stands on the other. Perhaps when you both tell the truth, the line turns into a crack and deepens into a canyon.
The outcome of truth-telling may be a more painful present.
But at least it will be a truthful one.
“You’re going to pay a price for every bloody thing you do and everything you don’t do. You don’t get to choose not to pay a price. You get to choose which poison you’re going to take.”
Telling the truth means keeping yourself in the present. Sometimes, what we want most is an escape from the present, from the pain of what is real in this moment.
But truth, and pain, and reality do not disappear when we deny or ignore them. They wait. They keep waiting until we are ready to look at them.
Outcomes are never certain, even when we think they are.
When we believe that denial gives us the power of control, we are fooling ourselves. We never know what’s coming. We never know what might happen next. We never have control of 99.9999999% of our life.
The closest we can get to knowing, to choosing, to having any sort of control is telling the truth. Telling the truth is choosing acceptance.
Acceptance is the only way to live at peace in all the difficulties, uncertainties, challenges, and rewards of life. We are dealt good things and tragic things; we live out rich moments and terrible moments. We get life in all its glory, life with all its pain.
Truth-telling allows us to live it.
Denial, avoidance, resistance, and all other forms of dishonesty keep us dead in the nonexistent past or future. You can stay stuck in the quicksand of control. You can lock yourself in the shadowy closets of memory. There is no deadline. Stay as long as you want.
You will have no idea what’s ahead. You will have to run straight into it.
You can’t predict the outcomes, anyway. Go ahead and tell the truth. Risk it. Become a person who is honest. Do it even though you’re scared and it feels vulnerable.
You will never be ready for who you’re about to be; you just have to go ahead and be it, and that’s how you live.
Annie Mueller is a writer, reader, seeker of growth, and transplant to Puerto Rico, where she lives with her best friend and their four children. Her crash course in self-discovery came from experiencing job loss, financial devastation, Hurricane Maria and its aftermath, and major surgery—all in less than a year. She writes about creativity, personal growth, and spirituality; runs Prolifica, a content management consultancy for small teams and solo professionals; and sends out a popular weekly newsletter about feelings and freelancing. You can find more of her work on her website.
Image courtesy of Raka Miftah.