The friends of Mary – about speaking the truth

There is something magical about truth.

I lied to my grandmother the other day. She had noted that her son’s girlfriend (let’s call her Mary) knew a lot of people where she was staying. My grandmother thought that was a bit odd. I told her we had arranged for Mary’s friends to take care of her. That was a nice thought, my grandmother said.

The fact of the matter is: my grandmother is going senile and had just moved into a retirement home. Mary has an administrative job in that same retirement home.

I didn’t want to tell my grandmother that – Mary needs to be able to do her job, not be bothered by my grandmother all the time. I’m sure Mary will come by to check on my grandmother as often as she can anyhow.
Those ‘friends of Mary’ were Mary’s colleges.

On an emotional level what I said was true. Mary is a person who’s friendly to a lot of people – and it’s clear she maintains friendly relations with a lot of the people my grandmother had seen her with that day. It’s also true that these are the very people who will be taking care of my grandmother. And we are all glad to have my grandmother in a house in which someone close to the family works and knows the ropes.

But I’m not sure I was speaking the truth on all levels. I left out a lot. I didn’t say Mary worked there. I left out the fact that those ‘friends of Mary’ would in most cases not be at Mary’s birthday party.

What I did was talk to my grandmother on the level she is at. She was being rebellious about the place she had mysteriously been dropped into. Emotionally she isn’t ready to acknowledge that she’ll be needing serious care for the rest of her life. She thinks she will be able to walk without a walker sometime in the future. She thinks she will be able to buy and prepare her own food soon.

Truth comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes – it’s not morally wrong to adapt the truth to the circumstance. What my conversation did was to get as much truth to my grandmother as I could manage. I managed to convince her that it was good that she was staying where she was staying. I found an explanation that fitted in with her conception of reality that also brought home some fundamental truths about her situation (she was being taken care of by good people, and the family had arranged for that).

Krishnamurti is said to have taught at only one level: in his speeches he didn’t relate as clearly to the level of his listeners. He wanted to talk about the truth without regard of where people were. I’m not sure that’s even possible.

Originally published and discussed here.