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Part #1 Your highest responsibility is to tell the truth

Your highest responsibility is to tell the truth, and in the process, do your best to preserve the recipient's sense of dignity.

This is the advice my psychologist gave me and my brother many years ago in a joint counselling session, and I've been grappling with it ever since. It seems like such an obvious thing to do - tell the damn truth. So why is it so hard, and why don't we tell the truth more often? In this post I'm going to unpack why I've become convinced that telling the truth is our highest responsibility, and next week I'll focus on how we can tell the truth in a way which seeks to preserve the recipient's sense of dignity.

I don't know about you, but I've spent a lot of my life trying to present a well crafted narrative about who I am and what I'm about to the world. I've crafted these narratives, and held onto them for dear life in an attempt to find safety, stability and acceptance by those around me in my life.

From an evolutionary point of view, it's no wonder that we seek to be accepted by those around us. Humans are far from the strongest or fastest in the animal kingdom. That said, what has consistently set us apart and allowed us to become the most dominant species on the planet is our unrivalled ability to effectively cooperate with other humans. Our strength resides in the tribe to which we belong, and therefore our individual impulse and desire to be accepted by the tribe has been essential to our survival. A hundred thousand years ago, this made a lot of sense - if we were rejected by the tribe, we would likely starve to death or be eaten by a stronger/faster predator. Fast forward to 2021, and this is no longer true for the vast majority of the population. However, neurologically the impulse to be accepted remains the same.

This evolutionary view creates space for me to find sympathy for myself and others who, be it consciously or subconsciously, just want to be accepted by those around us. The need to be accepted runs deep, and the fear of being rejected drives a lot of our strange behaviour as humans.

In my own experience, this desire to be accepted has resulted in me not expressing my opinions or emotions when I think that they will cause an unnecessary rift with those around me. It's resulted in me not calling out bad behaviour when I see it for fear of the conflict that may follow. It's resulted in me not giving an honest answer when I know the answer will be at odds with the opinions of the people around me.

Why is it important to tell the truth?

Every time I deny my true thoughts and feelings, I get smaller. Every time there is dissonance between what I really think and feel, and the words or actions that I present to the world, my true self gets more opaque, and I get further entrenched in the fictional story of "me" I'm trying to present to the world. We can feel it in our gut when we suppress how we really feel, only to have it bubble up later in a whole range of unhealthy emotions, and those delightful 2am wake ups where our unguarded subconscious plagues us with feelings of shame, guilt and anger.

The hardest thing I've come to realise over the years is that to deny your thoughts and feelings is not only cowardly, it's actually manipulative. I have moderated my behaviour to get the action or engagement that I want out of the people around me, but it's a work of fiction. More often than not, when I'm not 100% honest, the driver for this dishonesty is to try and create a sense of harmony with those around me. I want to avoid the seemingly threatening process of conflict, and the subsequent potential of being rejected by the "tribe".

Joe Rogan has a lovely quote which has subsequently become one of our company values at Valenture:

"Honest conflict has more social value than dishonest harmony."

Well said, Joe.

The challenge with being honest is that it's messy. We say how we really feel, and it often leads to some form of external conflict with those around us. I'll speak for myself, but I'm sure many of you can relate - I wasn't raised in a culture that was particularly comfortable with conflict, and I still find it stressful to this day.

That said, I've come to realise that conflict is inevitable, and we can absolutely guarantee that no matter what we do, it will take on one of two forms:

1. We can either be honest, and engage in the conflict that follows with those around us en route to finding common ground or parting ways, or

2. We can be dishonest with those around us, and experience the deep internal conflict that ensues from the dissonance we've created.

Much of our journey as humans is spent trying to find common understanding and alignment with those around us. It's a tricky business all on its own, but it's made much harder when we're living in a fictitious state of dishonest harmony. When we're honest with those around us, it gives us all the opportunity to grapple with the specifics to try and figure out what is true, fair and acceptable between us. My biggest growth and learning over the years, as uncomfortable as it's often been, has come from others being very honest with me, and me being very honest with myself and others. It's messy, it's scary and it's humbling, but ultimately it's deeply liberating and empowering.

There will only ever be one of you, and every one of use brings a unique perspective to existence that quite literally no one else will ever be able to contribute again. As divine sparks, it's our highest responsibility to contribute our truth into the collective, and embrace the challenges and opportunities that ensue. To deny our truth is to deny the gift of life which has been bestowed on every one of us. If this feels like a heavy burden, perhaps it is, but in my mind it’s the least we can do to honour the gift of life we’ve been given.

The best place to start on your journey to genuine authenticity is to be brutally honest with yourself - where are you being dishonest about yourself to yourself? This is a process that if you grapple with it deeply could take months, and possibly years, to bottom out. Once you’ve grappled with that, then move on to where you are being dishonest with those around you, and seek to instill the alignment of your thoughts, words and actions as a daily practice. The latter is a lifetime pursuit for most of us, and without question the path to making our ultimate and unique contribution to the world.

Who knows what you could become if you allowed your true self to emerge?


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