Truth downtrodden, not dead

If I were to look at the world from a teen’s perspective, life is pretty black and white. It’s either hot or it’s cold. It’s good or it’s bad. It is right or it is wrong. Despite the backdrop of this simplicity, life is pretty complicated as emotions swell beyond the youngster’s comprehension.

As we grow older and our emotions stabilize, truth takes on shade. Grey areas emerge. Shadows lurk behind the meaning of things. And we grow accustomed to truth’s dimming shine. Our indignation weakens as adult life distracts us. We are lulled into a quiet sleep, fact-checking less, digesting garbage without thought and passing on recycled beliefs we’ve stopped questioning.

During some moments in history, the light switches back on. Our eyelids peel back, our backs straighten. We start paying attention with an intensity long forgotten in those high school hallways of yesteryear.

Now is one of those moments. When truth is on the witness stand. When what is said is scrutinized more closely. When the litmus test of reality races to the forefront.

Bildschirmfoto 2017-03-25 um 11.47.02Time magazine put three words and a question mark on its front cover this week.

Is truth dead?

The very fact that the editors pose the question tells me it is not. If we truly lived in a post-fact world, we would have no mind to engage in the inquiry.

In Trump’s attempt at weakening what is real, at his outright inability to withstand truth’s might, at his blaming and slandering and pouting and thrashing comes truth’s ultimate power. He is inadvertently strengthening the very thing he cannot stand: groups who disagree with him.

You cannot fight against forces stronger than you. No tower so high, no wife so beautiful, no pocket so deep, no office so revered will ever make an honest man out of a liar. A cheater. A profane example of human impotence.

The truth may be downtrodden, but it lives on. We are ever vigilant now. The tempest is gathering its gale force winds. The greatest revenge is our own success.

The truth will prevail. And so will we.

 

Shadows in the Light

Where there is much light, there will be much darkness. Ah yes, those ubiquitous shadows that dance in the sun’s rays. My intention in life has always been to spread love and light wherever I can. I really mean that. It may sound naive, and perhaps it is. But I am always shocked when I meet people who don’t live with that level of integrity. When they feel more drawn to the darker side of things because, well, it’s cooler and no one can see what they’re up to. If no one witnesses your lying as you lurk in the shadows, have you really lied at all?

Dancing with the Freiburg sun

I recently watched a fascinating documentary called Dishonesty: The Truth About Lies. It turns out we all lie, yet most of us still think we are good people. We are hopelessly optimistic that somehow we are above average. We cheat mostly when our social surroundings support that behavior with the promise of a more favorable outcome with a very low to zero chance of getting caught. So it’s not the honesty we care about, but about whether we can pursue our advantage by whichever means available to us while still being liked or loved.

Shocking. And somehow so true.

Have you ever been in the check-out line at the grocery store and you forget to place one of the items in your cloth bag onto the conveyor belt. You noticed it when you get home. You literally stole it without knowing it. Do you make your way back to the store to return or at least pay for the item? Chances are if the cost in terms of time and energy is above a certain threshold, you won’t. You’ll live with yourself and your justifications about how it doesn’t really matter. Most likely, you will believe what you are telling yourself. And even if you tell your friends, they most likely will too.

Have you ever received too much change after a purchase transaction without giving it back? Have you ever run a red light? Walked across a crosswalk while the pedestrian sign says ‘Don’t walk’?

We look for shortcuts to get things done faster. In the name of economy, we lie our asses off. And sometimes when we get caught, we feel a sense of shame. But usually only the first time. The more we lie, the more it feels normal. Dishonesty tells a few sobering tales about some liars who ended up getting jail time.

So what about those shadows and that light? What makes us choose to step into the light instead of hiding out in the darkness with our reasons and fear? It turns out even being reminded that there is such a thing as a code of ethics can vastly impact a person’s willingness toward honesty. Study after study showed that when participants first read a line about the moral standards set out at the university at which the research was being conducted, people shaped up and gave honest answers. That’s encouraging. So we can learn to be upstanding with a little nudge from the ethics’ committee.

André Gide says: “The color of truth is grey.” A little light. A little shadow. A blend of the two makes up what we believe to be right. Even if we’re sometimes wrong. Or naive. Or both.

 

Difficult Conversations

The year 2014 is coming to a close. In a few weeks the holidays will be upon us.

I have never been happier to say farewell to one of the hardest years of my life.

In many ways, it has been a good year. I have developed new, positive, life-sustaining relationships that have given me so much strength in a time when I’ve really needed it. I have also had to allow some relationships to change dramatically, in the form of little to no communication and a distant well-wishing to ensure a healthy, new way of being.

Change is always difficult because it brings up a lot of things we’d rather not examine. It calls up our weaknesses and our blind spots. We are confronted, challenged and greatly unsettled by the newness of it all.

And yet change is also a way of tilling the Earth to bring in new, fertile ground. It is as necessary as oxygen. In a way, change means evolution. If we aren’t changing, we aren’t growing. And if we aren’t growing, we are dying.

And no one really wants to live in a state of death.

Ironically, change also brings death, the ending of the way we used to be. We have the opportunity to alter our thoughts, actions and behaviors to become more aligned with who we truly are.

Forgiveness can help.

It seems as though 2014 has been the Year of Difficult Conversations. I have had a lot of them – as recently as last week when a client admitted to me that he was sorry the way our project failed; that he appreciated my professionalism through it all; that he is embracing the Power of Slow as his world topples too. It was a magical moment of grace as I realized he could actually hear me say, “It was frustrating to know that my best didn’t yield what you were looking for.”

It was a conversation of forgiveness – and it moved me in ways I have yet to fully realize.

What I have also learned this year is that while difficult conversations may sting like hell, they are like wildfires that burn away the debris for new life to emerge. If we don’t express what we truly think and feel, those words burn us from the inside out.

Speaking your truth takes a lot of practice. A few things have helped me along the way whenever I’ve had to have an uncomfortable conversation:

  1. Prepare your key message. Practice what you are going to say. Start from the ending. How do you want the conversation to end? Begin it with that intention in mind.
  2. In some cases, it is helpful to actually say, “No matter what I am about to say, I want you to know that I care about you/the project/our collaboration, etc. You matter to me – my telling you this is actually an act of trust that you can hear me.”
  3. Do not take anything the other person says personally. It is not about you, your worth or your position in life.
  4. Actively listen to the other person. Do not allow distractions such as your smartphone or Facebook status get in the way. It shows respect when you give the other person your full attention.

You may feel like a toddler, waddling from one piece of furniture to the next as you hang on for dear life whilst falling periodically on your butt. But I promise you it will get better, your relationships will grow stronger and the ones that end as a result of your honesty were not meant to be in your life anyway.

The Painful Truth

Why does honesty hurt sometimes? Like any muscle that’s been underused, we grow accustomed to telling little untruths to ensure we look good, sound good, feel good. It doesn’t always feel good to look truth in the eye, especially when we try so desparately to hide it.

Truth has consequences. It means you blast open your soul for all to see. You are vulnerable in a way that is scary and unfamiliar. And you think in being that honest you will somehow lose everything.

When we unchain ourselves from those little white lies, we start to unearth our true selves. For fear that we will be judged, we try hard to keep a lid on our thoughts and feelings. We’d rather harmonize on the outside and agonize on the inside than ever, ever show what is real about who we are.

Why?

It starts early in our development. I see it in my own children. As their true selves start to emerge, they are confronted with the need to fit in and be a part of the group. It is frightening to feel as if you might be cast outside the city walls, banned forever and left to die without shelter or care.

We often think if we reveal our inner being that we will somehow die in the process.

Nothing can be farther from the truth.

When we truly open up to another person, we give them permission to do the same. Without judgment. With love.

Authenticity plays a big role in showing that side of ourselves. When we are authentic, we act from love, that timeless, omniscient state of beauty and grace.

The truth may be painful, but if, as in sports, you practice enough, it will hurt a lot less — in time. And all that energy you placed in hiding what is true about you can be freed up and put back into your life – that fabulous, magical life you truly deserve.

What Honest Abe Would Think About Email

46th Munich Security Conference 2010: Dr. Karl...

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On this President’s Day, I sit in snowy Bavaria, contemplating the state of our world today. The weekend edition of my sleepy town’s paper reported on a University of South Carolina study that found 92% of the participants lied when communicating via Email (all efforts to find the original study failed so for the purposes of this post, I am going to give the newspaper the benefit of the doubt).

The study participants were given $89, then told to let an unknown recipient how much money they had in the kitty and how much they were willing to share. A whopping ninety-two percent who used Email to convey their message were dishonest about the amount they had available to them (to their advantage). For those in the study who were required to write a letter instead, only 63% (still a huge number) lied about it.

You might argue that most people have a skewed relationship with money and are therefore dishonest about such things. But even when it comes to plagiarism, people risk being tossed out of school, or as in the case of Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Germany’s most favored politician, some risk being tossed out of office.

Having experienced what it feels like to see my own words in print under someone else’s name (a political science professor whom I greatly admired lifted a full two paragraphs from a graduate studies research paper I had written and claimed it as his own), I am following the plagarism scandal that Mr (can I still say Dr?) zu Guttenberg has swirling around him. He is accused of plagiarizing almost 100 different passages from newspapers and other published works in his doctoral thesis. While he has claimed his innocence (and part of me really wants to believe him), the piling evidence is stacked against him.

When an elected official plagiarizes, what does this teach our children? It opens up the opportuntiy for discussion about what is right and what is wrong. And yet I wonder, beyond the initial learning moment, whether they too will be pressured to keep pace with the increasing demands and give in to the temptation to do a quick cut and paste at crunch time.

Zu Guttenberg, a German royal (yes, we have those, too) with 10 first names, launched his political career while raising a young family (okay, his wife did the heavy-lifting) and writing a 450+ page doctoral thesis. Nonetheless, we must hold him to the same standard as anyone else. Cheating is cheating, no matter how many names you possess.

In our 24/7 Internet world, it’s imperative that we maintain a high level of integrity. It’s too easy to lift ideas and call them your own, all in the name of ‘saving time’. But, as in the case of my wayward professor who landed in the hospital with a broken pelvis after playing soccer shortly after I confronted him (in a letter), life teaches us that there are no shortcuts. Sooner or later someone will discover you’ve lied in an Email, or in a published work.

My power of slow advice to you all is to give credit where credit is due. Source it, people. It won’t make you shine less to give someone else the kudos for their hard-earned work. In fact, in this day and age, you might be the rare 8% who stand out as a superstar because you actually told the truth.

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