Truth and lies – right and wrong?

I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this before… but it seems I haven’t (or can’t find it – perhaps it was on another blog?). I got into an e-mail conversation with someone who claimed that I had said somewhere on this blog that one should speak the truth all the time. Since I have lied only yesterday to my grandmother, and fully conscious of it – I took issue with that.

Before I explain, I have to say that I do feel truth is an important ideal. Spirituality without truth is worthless, I feel. And yes, where I can, I try to speak the truth. Speaking the truth, the absolute truth, is powerful – because it means preventing extra illusions coming up between people. If everyone lies on their resume, how should a resume be written? I have personally decided that no matter what the cost, I’d rather be honest and poor than lying and rich. I’d rather wear my vulnerabilities on my sleeve, than pretend to be more than I am. Which doesn’t mean I’ll talk about every thing going on in my life online. No harm in keeping quiet. [Don’t imagine dark secrets now 😉 ]

But my grandmother is losing her mind. She’s in  that tricky stage of Alzheimer’s where she is sane enough to be able to make some kind of sense. She’s sane enough to wonder whether the fact that her husband hasn’t come down for lunch or tea means he’s not there. But she’s not there enough to remember that in fact he died several years ago. She’s sane enough to know she needs money to get out of where she is. But she’s gone enough to not really know she’s in a retirement home. And she certainly doesn’t realize she’s in a ward for those who, like her, are in varying stages of dementia.

And yes, sometimes she does wonder whether she’s losing her mind. Thankfully she forgets those suspicions as soon as they come – or seems to.

Conversations with my grandmother can become a bit disconcerting. Yesterday she asked me if I would come and bring her money tomorrow, because she wanted to ‘go home’. I’m sure she has no idea of what home means. She also has no clue as to in which city she is and which she’d like to go to. She told me she wanted to go by train. But she obviously doesn’t take into account the fact that she’d need to get her wheel chair into the train to start with. Or her walker – or both.

In responding to her question I took into account that she will not remember tomorrow, what I tell her today. In fact – I’m not sure she’ll still know it an hour after she’s hung up the phone. So I can in fact tell her anything that will calm her down and shut her up. Sometimes that means lying. This time I managed a simple version of the truth. I told her that I’d be working the next day, so I could not bring her the money she’d need for the train. Since I live ten minutes walk from where she is, I’d be very capable of bringing her money in an emergency. But since I feel she’s right where she needs to be, I’m not telling her that.

In her case I limit the truths I tell her to the questions she asks. It’s like dealing with kids and touchy subjects: you have to be age appropriate. And what that means is you let the childs questions determine how much you tell them. With my grandmother it’s the same. If she comes right out and asks me where my grandfather (or father – she’ll usually mean the same person) is, I will tell her he died. But if she merely mentions him in passing I don’t try and correct her.

So do I believe in speaking the truth at all times? Certainly not. Do I believe in speaking the truth as much as possible? Yes, of course I do.

9 thoughts on “Truth and lies – right and wrong?”

  1. Good post! I also believe in telling the truth whenever possible, but it all boils down to what one’s intention is.

  2. I would think that the vast majority of people would respond much the same as this:
    “Do I believe in speaking the truth as much as possible? Yes, of course I do.”

    What is problematic is that almost all of them believe that they are doing just that no matter how much they lie. They tell themselves, “It’s business”, “They might think negatively about me”, “Telling my spouse about my infidelity would only hurt him/her”, etc. No matter what it is, there’s a way to “justify” it to themselves. One of the reasons that there is so little truth in this world is because this type of thinking is not only not discouraged, but encouraged – even by those who should know better. They leave the door open to allow for their own transgressions. You might want to ask yourself how the following fits into your motivation: “So I can in fact tell her anything that will calm her down and shut her up. Sometimes that means lying.”

    Do you ever wonder why so few truly value and respect Truth. Do you ever wonder why so few realize Truth?

  3. As a response to Roy’s post, I’ve never personally perceived truth to be so scarce as to think there “is so little truth in this world” and that “so few truly value and respect Truth.” I see truth everywhere. I also sometimes see people telling lies, mostly on tv, but that it is their problem. Not mine. Generally I am pretty good at keeping liars out of my personal life, thank goodness.

    I think we humans do the best we know how. There is no way that there is going to be perfect truth in this world by every single person. As someone whose mother is delusional from schizophrenia, I know first hand that it is pointless to be rational with someone whose “truth” involves nurses who “don’t know how to spell”, whose arms have been “broken” in her mind (but not in reality) for the past 5 years, and has told me several times that she has “died.” Trying to be logical and telling her that people are in fact NOT illiterate, that her arms are just fine, and that she never died does nothing but infuriate her. And this often results in her screaming at me in frustration. In this case the truth, MY truth, just makes things worse for her.

    I could go into how truth is sometimes relative, and not a black and white issue, and how we all have different “truths” in our minds anyway. But then I’d be making this into a bigger deal than I feel it’s worth. The way I see it, we will never know complete “truth” until we go back home to source anyway.

    (When it comes down to it, isn’t life itself supposed to be a dream?) 🙂

  4. Thanks Metaphysical Junkie. It must be hard to deal with a Schizophrenic mother.

    I think perhaps this subject has something to do with respecting that my version of the truth is only my version of it. It may have more in common with those around me than my grandmother’s version, but it is still only my own perspective. And it’s just not important enough to force on others. That would be arrogant and unkind of me.

    In my grandmother’s case I only remind her that her husband has died (for instance) when she wonders out loud where he is. That very wondering in her is the opening that shows that she’s ready for that bit of truth at that point in time. For her, like for your mother, it’s more important to be emotionally calm than it is to hear our version of reality.

    There just isn’t room in her head for everything I might tell her. Who am I to fight with nature?

  5. True love DEMANDS the Truth!
    We all fail to tell the truth. We all delve to rationalize our lies. We all sympathize with those dealing with difficult situations.
    I am in process of telling my teenage children about my life. This is a humbling experience. I have and will continue to tell them the truth about the mistakes that I have made. I will do this even though it is uncomfortable and inconvenient for me. I will do this even though it could serve as encouragement for them to do unwise and unsafe activities. I will do this even though it could harm our relationship. I will do this because it is the truth and they deserve the truth.
    Right now my kids have a false vision of their father (me). They think he has not sinned to any great degree. They think he has led an exemplary moral life. Some commenters here might say that I should not force my version of the truth on them. That is as self centered as it gets.
    When asked, every person is obligated to render a truthful account; ALWAYS!
    In the love of Christ,
    -Mel

  6. I think it’s very brave to tell your kids the truth. Especially in their teenage years – but that is also the precise moment when they are starting to become conscious of their parents as separate human beings with failings and all that. So it’s the best time. Do it later and your kids will have reason to blame you. Do it too soon and you burden them with sorrows they aren’t ready for.

    I think your example of having overcome sin and adversity is likely to be inspiring, and not likely to make them go the wrong path. It is more likely to prevent them from following in your footsteps (though there are no guarantees, obviously).

    So I certainly DO NOT THINK you should shrink from telling them the truth. They are not mentally disabled or anything of the kind, are they?

    But do tell your story in a way that they can understand.

    I would certainly not advertise keeping people in the dark who can handle more truth than they have at present. That’s as ignorant as trying to force people to see truths they aren’t ready for. I’m not one of those who thinks people will ‘find out for themselves’.

    In general we are not clairvoyant to that extent. Humans learn from each other – that’s how we tick. Communication is very important in relationships – and with the world as complicated as it is, kids should learn that skill in their parents house. You are giving the right example in that sense as well.

  7. You said, I’m sure she has no idea of what home means. I think that in Grandma’s mind Home is not about getting there it’s a place she would like to be. During her life time there were likely several places that could be Home not necessarily the most recent place she lived. It could be a place she lived as a child or as a young person living away from home for the first time or the place where her children were born. So maybe it is a train ride to a place far away.

  8. True love DEMANDS the Truth!

    But the True Truth is as one sees it, seeing ALL (or more than “the average person”) means one can be compassionate and tell what comes close to what can be understood.

    the truth will set me free

    So I am willing to hear the truth of other people even when it shocks me or offends me or angers me . . .
    Even when that truth is something I not agree with ????
    Luckily some people know me so well they only speak to me the truth I can understand, or can grasp at 🙂

    I like Terry Pratchett’s book ‘The Truth’

    and then there is the old Dutch proverb (Confucius ? )
    HOREN ZIEN EN ZWIJGEN in english: ‘See all, hear all, say nowt’

    Thanks Katinka for making me clear my mind about so many subjects on your blog !

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