The Jubilee

  • A Krainer
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  • February 2009
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Tell the truth (even if it leads to your death)!

Posted by Alex Krainer on February 18, 2009

A simple thought with the power to make us better people and the world a better place.

Funny how a few words strung together have the power to profoundly affect your outlook. Two or three years ago I saw Ridley Scott’s film “Kingdom of Heaven” (if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it). In one scene, a French knight (Liam Neeson) initiates his son (Orlando Bloom) into his order; as part of the initiation rite, the father admonishes his son: “always tell the truth, even if it leads to your death.” These words never quite left my thoughts since.

At first, I dismissed them – nice, but too extreme. Impossible to live up to. Perhaps just plain dumb… But the thought just wouldn’t leave me alone and each time it came to my mind it dug for itself a deeper meaning.

Truthfulness isn’t about splitting hairs over every word you say. Humor, for one thing, often entails making outrageous and untrue or exaggerated statements. Other times, our discussions deal in personal interpretations of truth which may or may not be correct. But it is at times when we’re tempted to deliberately deceive or mislead for whatever reason that being truthful stands to make the difference.

As a harmless example, I give importance to punctuality as a matter of respect of other people and their time. Still, I find it incredibly hard to actually be punctual. Being always late 5, 10, or 15 minutes for any appointment used to be the way I was. To be sure, I always had an excuse – usually an invented one: traffic jam, meeting that ran overtime, call from the boss just as I was leaving office, or whatever. Lying seemed as an occasional tool of convenience; a way to reconcile the difference between my self-image (I’m respectful of others) with my actual conduct (I’m habitually tardy). Of course I would be on time, if only it wasn’t for this thing that happened… Except, the things that happened were often inventions, and in effect, I was propping my self-image of a respectful person on falsehoods. Ouch!

On the other hand, refusing to lie forced me to either be punctual, or admit that I’m a disrespectful schmuck, late for no good reason. This all made me realize that being lax with truth allows me to be lax in many other ways and the act of making the commitment to always tell the truth would keep me from doing things I’d have to lie about.

In this way, greater respect for truth has the power to make the world a better place. Committed to being truthful, husbands wouldn’t cheat on their wives and create so many broken families. Media editors wouldn’t mislead the public and distort the democratic process. Financiers wouldn’t build up Ponzi schemes and defraud investors of their savings. Statesmen wouldn’t invade nations on false pretenses and destroy the lives of millions of people. In short, if we all committed to being truthful, the world would be a better place.

How naïve is that? I refuse to think it naïve. Truth isn’t always comfortable. There are times when telling the truth entails risk and takes courage. Likely, the more courage it takes to tell the truth, the more important it is to be truthful. This is where “even if it leads to your death,” resonates

It’s down to who we choose to be in life. We all admire virtue of characters like the William Wallace or Jerry McGuire in films or real-life heroes like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King or Gandhi. Nobody in their hopeful youth aspires to be a groveling coward. Nobody hopes to sell out for money. We deeply care about things like truth and courage and justice, and only perhaps fail to appreciate that each and every one of us has the power to make a difference – not by finding bad guys and beating them up, but by being more like people we admire

Both virtue and vice take root in small things – the numerous and frequent opportunities to uphold or to violate the person we aspire to be. The important bit – the catalyst – is the act of making a conscious commitment. Living up to it is each person’s own personal jihad. Prevailing in this jihad is its own reward; there is nothing quite like earning your own self-respect and approval. It stays with you forever

Even if we can’t all be saints and muster the courage to tell the whole truth on every occasion, making the commitment and keeping it alive will help us to rise up to important occasions. At the very least, it should keep us off the slippery slope of habitual and casual lying. This would certainly be an improvement, and our world really can use any improvement we can spare.

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One Response to “Tell the truth (even if it leads to your death)!”

  1. Tom Ford said

    This Is God ( Or Whatever You Choose To Call It?) In Action. There Are Many Such Sayings. Love One Another As I Have Loved You. Treat Your Neighbor As You Would Be Treated. And Love The Lord Our God With All Your Mind,& Soul. These Thing Are True Wisdom. And Like Many Things You “Just Know” When You Hear Them!Universal Truth.

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