Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Courage to Risk Telling the Truth

--by Angeles Arrien (Jul 26, 2010)

Something definitely changes when we finally summon the courage to risk telling the truth about who we are and are not. The primary questions become: how and why do we avoid being who we truly are? What gets in the way of trusting our self completely? Under what circumstances do we deceive or delude ourselves?

When we are phony, pretentious, or cynical in order to achieve interpersonal or material gain, we diminish ourselves and disrespect others. The extent to which we have positive regard and respect for ourselves and others determines how successfully we achieve congruity among all aspects of our character. It becomes necessary in this process of congruity, to demonstrate the self-regard that is true to who we are, and as we do this, we are unwilling to compromise our integrity in order to satisfy the expectations of others or win their approval. We know our behavior is authentic when we can consistently say what we mean, do what we say, and say what is so when it is so. We can check ourselves by asking whether our motivation, speech, appearance, and actions match our true character in all the varied aspects of our lives -- relationships, work, and community. When our words, actions, and behaviors are in harmony, wisdom and authenticity emerge.

Authenticity is the expression of what is genuine and natural. It commands great respect because, unfortunately, it is so rare. The desire to be accepted, or to engage in competition and comparison, drives us to limit our behavior to what falls within narrowly prescribed, predictable norms. Ridding ourselves of old patterns and accessing the authentic self are entry ways to freedom and the domain of wisdom. In fact, as we discover how to befriend these processes, ageing and renewing our character can be what Carl Jung called, “A winter grace.” Jung believed that if we do not develop inner strength as we age, we will become defensive, dogmatic, depressed, resentful, and cynical. Our homeland of authenticity is within, and there we are sovereign. Until we rediscover this ancient truth in a way that is unique for each of us, we are condemned to wander, seeking solace in the outer world where it cannot be found.

--Angeles Arrien, from "The Second Half of Life"

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Previous Reflections:

On Jul 26, 2010 Joie wrote:

Finally!  a newsletter with a purpose and a message. In my isolation I am missing connections such as the thoughts I have just read. Where is my 'other' to sit in silence on Wednesdays until there is something worthy of saying. 

On Jul 26, 2010 Lokesh wrote:

Metaphorically well said, but how do we achieve this in practical world, which is marred with insecurity and charlatan skills?

Sample this - the most often said thing is one should loose ego.
Example - B is sub-ordinate of A and brings to notice of A some of the inadherant inadequacies of A, in return all A will have to say B is to shed ego, now in doing so isn't A himself celebrating ego and demonstrating that he is egoistic, else why would A give a damn about B? A could have lapsed in introspection.

Another sample - Aristotle remarked that contradictions do not exist, one of the underlying premises is incorrect. As centuries have passed since then, mankind has only added to confusion by compounding the premises rather than discarding them.

On Jul 27, 2010 karan wrote:

 u done great jb

On Jul 27, 2010 shirley wrote:

In this age, authenticity is something that is more related to furniture, food and the like, but not necessarily people. It seems that in surviving the requirements of modern times, people have indeed become far too adaptable, often compromising their true beliefs to conform. Authenticity can be directly linked to the tangible outcomes arising from the possession a strong social conscience.
Im my golden years, after a lengthy career in the helping profession, often wearing many professional hats, I strive for the authenticity gained from not compromising the values I hold at the inner core of my being. In the 16th Century, Shakespeare suggested that we can only be true to others by being true to ouselves. - Real authenticity.

On Jul 29, 2010 Diana wrote:

 My only way to access my true self  is through consistent prayer, which isn't easy as I am oftern suduced into trying to look outside myself to gain validation. The universe is a mirror go out and attempt to respect others ,strangely alot of people won't like it and you will be attacked but keep doing it and you will feel great. The hardest person to respect will be the most annoying person in your environment -pray to treat them with compassion and respect and you will see your petty self in all its horribleness , this is where wars start from our own hearts. I favour the run away method which never works because that person is there to help me change and overcome that inherent negativity. Pray for that persons happiness ,and at times like this I don't want to pray I'd rather hang on to my nasty feelings which basically poison me and cause me to ultimately be unhappy . Hate is easy anything else is a mountain to climb , which I oftern fall down alot!

On Jul 29, 2010 Bhoutik wrote:

Here's the wonderful poem that Audrey shared tonight ... text follows the audio below:

Play Audio:


When Moved By Voices
When moved by voices
crystal clear
like a calling
succumbs you and
you fall fearless,
love - a shield - 
and you walk as if
you can't fall
you won't.
When you walk enwrapped in clouds
grace surrounds you
nudging you along
can break you.
Fear and loneliness a distant memory
when you know you can make a
weathered old man laugh
a recovering alcoholic smile
light a spark
in the eye
of a stranger.
Like rising with the sun
your thoughts first a vague pink dream
in slumber
light floods the valley
last night's stars
like dreams
When moved by stories
our eyes dance
hearts smile
babies sigh
like they know it all
but we - our hearts heavy-
through stories
like a dream the monk told me:
"Life is all a dream,
it's just a matter of picking
the one
you want to be in."
Be moved
by voices.
Let them call you to sing
your true song.
Let the cliffs of Mount Everest
to the depths of souls like no light
has ever seen
like when the stars dance
and the holes we all carry in
our hearts
are mended
for a moment the world exists
like nothing could go wrong
dream me up the right songs
listen on the right days
and soon
in each moment
you'll hear a voice
that moves you.
It's you.
[Part II]
When moved by voices
years ago
the timid young man
who moved a nation
the discerning mother
of a saint
the spiritual beggar
who spins circles round my dreams
and tells me
the world will fall apart
but love
will save us.
Somewhere in the spaces
between our conversations
the echoes off the walls
when the room is empty
love waits.
Eternal patience
holding me 
in the palm of her hand
my eyes seeping in 
love plops me on her lap
cradles me on nights
I think I'm slipping 
through the cracks
she holds me
like a dancer moves still air--
with hope.
And suddenly
I'm as silent as I began
but the voices linger
as intuition
floods the cracks
I used to fall through
Something tells me
the pain in my back will go away
the burns in my eyes will cool
bruises will heal
babies will walk
and lust and love one day
into the grey humbleness of old age and
like leaves in autumn,
when wisdom says it's time to go
We all go home one day.
The voices take us there
in circles.
Begin again.
(written July 15, 2010)

On Jul 30, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

I found myself disagreeing with the title of this passage, which implies that you need courage to tell the truth. My experience has been that the amount of courage needed is inversely proportional to the depth of the truth to be told. When the truth is shallow, a lot of work has to be done to tell it - that is when we exaggerate and economize on the truth. But when it is really deep, courage does not come to mind - one just tells it like it is.

Viral pointed out another dimension to this which I ought to have picked up on, given my studies with risk. The word "risk" is misplaced - the risk of telling the truth has to be weighed against the risk involved in NOT telling the truth, which in Viral's mind (and I'm sure, many others, who have thought this through a little bit) is much higher. This connects with CFDad's comment that a lie needs to be supported by so many other lies - too much work. 

I find that the hard work needed is not so much in telling the truth, but in arriving at the deepest truth we possibly can. Telling it is the easy part.

Hafeez shared an important reflection - what if someone asks us how they look? Sometimes we have to be careful when telling the truth so as not to hurt others. This may look trivial but is actually a big one - are white lies lesser lies? In order to judge the quality of our decision, we must check if we created enough alternatives for ourself and if we took the time to understand our own values. If I was to ask you, "Do I look fat in this shirt?" and I was you, I'd like to say, "Somik, it is not the fault of the shirt - you look fat in every shirt you wear, but, and a big BUT, it seems to me that you are not really interested in shirts and looks, and this is really a "Do I love you?" question. Of course I do, and what's love got to do with shirts and looks? Do we share such a shallow relationship where I need to give you material affirmations? Is there any doubt that we are both destined to get ugly and then die?" 

I have found that going to the heart of the matter transforms relationships. After a conversation like the one above, I only get asked "How do I look?" questions if the person really wants to know how they look, and if that is the case, I owe it to them to tell the whole truth. Why would I not tell my friend if something is wrong with their dress, and have them be embarrassed about it later? 

So, whether I look at the shallow end or the deep end, truth seems to be the best decision. I don't have to accept the question the way it is asked - I always have the freedom to create options.

My professor says this, that those who tell the whole truth don't have to work that hard in relationships - they just tell the whole truth in every situation. I find this to be true for the times I'm mindful, although finding the whole truth does involve pausing and reflecting.

Sometimes, people bring up extreme examples to challenge the wisdom of telling the truth. For instance, if we were in Nazi Germany, and were under threat of persecution if we were a German soldier in those times who wanted to stand up for his convictions. It turns out that there was such a soldier (whose name escapes me - his story is in the book Ethics for the Real World) who stood up for his convictions and refused to participate in the massacring of the Jews. He was jailed, but since the Nazis did everything legally, they could not file charges, for they'd have to then prove that the orders given were legal, for which they'd have to go all the way up, perhaps requiring Hitler to come to court. So, our conscientous objector spent the whole war in jail, getting to live through the war, and come out as a hero. He had a good outcome, but that is certainly not guaranteed for truth tellers.

A personal story, again connected to an important point that Hafeez made - when we are not authentic, the only ones we fool is ourselves, for others know it clearly. The other day, I was in a conversation with someone who was facing some challenges. I felt a lot of compassion for this person and shared what I could to inspire this person to work harder. I felt good, so did this person-  it was from a space of authenticity. Then, we both were in a talk by a wise teacher, who pretty much echoed what I had said. My ego got inflated, and I was thrilled with the validation. At the next conversation opportunity, I tried talking about the confirmation. Surprisingly, I had to work really hard to say something meaningful, and it didn’t make me feel light at all, it didn’t help those listening (one of whom told me so). It is amazing how in the space of one evening, I could see two extremes - we have all the feedback mechanisms we need to know we are not being authentic, and the biggest one is our own experience of the moment. 

I loved Nipun’s story of him confronting someone who took a parking spot while he was trying to parallel park into it. His dilemma of whether to let it go was resolved when he thought about how instead of him, his mother or someone else’s mother might have to face this situation. So, he decided to stand up and confronted the driver, by asking, “Do you know what you did?” The driver was a kid, who replied, “I was parking my car.” Nipun asked, “And what do you think I was trying to do?” He then made clear that the driver understood this was inappropriate behavior, but he was going to let it go this time. This was remarkable at so many levels - I had an experience some weeks back of being rear-ended by an SUV - the driver was texting. While I didn’t want to fight, I made clear that he had gotten really lucky and he shouldn’t do this again. I was wondering if I did the right thing standing up, but hearing Nipun’s story laid that at rest - the principle I got out of it was this - do I want my loved ones to experience what I just experienced? If not, how can I be the change?

On Jul 31, 2010 Kaushik wrote:

The first step towards authencity, in my experience, is self-honesty, and the first step towards self-honesty is the admission that we can fool ourselves. But self-honesty can be developed--as we remain aware and still and let go.