True words 2

It’s perfectly natural to speak differently to different audiences, to one’s spouse, co-workers, children, neighbors, public officials, etc.

We might speak more frankly and convey our feelings more completely when talking to our spouse than to our children. It’s reasonable to assume that there are certain things that, though true, your children would be better off not hearing. Likewise sometimes with parents and others close to us there are things they’ve made it clear they would prefer not to hear.

Some people are comfortable talking about money, and some are not. Many subjects may call for a prior investigation to discover any special sensitivities.

I think particularly here of how to talk about death with different people. A six year old and a sixteen year old will have very different needs for information and support if a loved one is terminally ill. Also, many adults are ill at ease talking about death, their own or other peoples’. This is a particularly delicate topic and should be approached with compassion in all cases. The dying person and the primary carer should take the lead in setting the boundaries and the tone of the conversation. But lying is never appropriate, especially about something as important as dying. Children, even very young children, need to be included in the truth of what’s happening around them. The facts and unknowns are the same for everyone in a given situation. Where variation is needed is in giving people room to express their responses to the facts.

We sometimes use the filter of kindness in leaving out details. If we know something unsavory about another person, we need to think carefully about whether anyone else needs to hear this information. Stopping the spread of unpleasant news is often a beneficial thing to do, especially when there is nothing to be gained by sharing it.

Conversely, when there is positive news, we can reach out and share it widely. It seems to be a quirk of human nature that we are more inclined to remember and share bad news than good. It’s a habit worth observing and leaning against.

Why might we be tempted to lie or to stretch the truth?

Thus he doesn’t consciously tell a lie for his own sake, for the sake of another, or for the sake of any reward. Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech. He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world. (from AN 10.176, tr. Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

The obvious example is dishonesty leading to financial gain, such as con artists of all types use. Less obvious are our attempts to avoid embarrassment by not telling the truth about ourselves, or representing a fault as not ours, but someone else’s. And sometimes, as pointed out above, we might bend the truth to hide something we don’t want known about someone we care for.

Often, what can be gained by being untruthful is subtle, such as a need for attention, or the wish to appear interesting and not boring. What, if anything, can you identify as a possible motive for yourself to stretch the truth?

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