Monthly Archives: May 2010

Speaking the Truth

I have been experimenting recently with speaking only the truth. Not as a rigid rule, but simply taking it as an opportunity when it comes to mind. After practicing this for only a few days, I was blown away by the positive results that I observed. In this post, I will clarify what I mean by “speaking only the truth” and give a few examples of how rephrasing in the truth can really awaken a sentence.

Depending on your background, you may be apprehensive about the idea. You may be thinking that doing anything but speaking the truth is lying and that it is immoral! Or, conversely, you may think it very limiting to take away the powerful rhetorical tool of hyperbole. If you are thinking the former: I suspect that you probably do not speak in absolute truth as much as you think. If the latter: I suggest that by consciously limiting your hyperbole, you may notice your words having a new, powerful resonance with yourself and others.

Here are some untruths that I observe frequently:

  • “You” instead of “I”: For example, “when you exercise in the morning, you have more energy during the day”. It is very unlikely that the speaker knows this about the person they are speaking to (this is just a manner of speaking, it is clear that the speaker intended to make a generalization). A truer way to say this is “when I exercise in the morning, I have more energy during the day”. I hear the latter as less pushy than the former, as it allows the listener to reach his or her own conclusions, and it might also turn on a light in the speaker’s head to the order of “wait — that’s interesting — why am I not exercising in the morning?”, whereas that connection might not be as clear if he used the former.
  • Emotional accusations: For example, “she didn’t write me back because she is mad at me”. At this point, I have taken as an axiom that I can’t know others’ emotions, so “she is mad at me” raises a red flag for assigning an emotion to someone else. Perhaps the speaker meant “she didn’t write me back, which makes me think she is mad at me”. Suddenly the weak premise is exposed, and the statement bears less weight. I have had similar experiences where restating my sentiment in this way reveals that I am just being insecure. It reveals the world of feelings and perceptions, and prevents confusing them with reality.
  • Confusing behaviors and facts: For example, “whenever I see a cigarette, I need to smoke”. This has a similar connotation to “I am and will always be a person who must smoke whenever I see a cigarette”. A more truthful and less crippling version of this is “in the past, when I have seen a cigarette, I got an urge to smoke”. The speaker is empowered, perhaps realizing that this is not an intrinsic fact about himself but a mere statement about some things that have happened. The statement can still be true even if the pattern changes in the future. I first learned this as only applied to “negative” statements, but I have started to apply it unconditionally. I do this because I don’t want to judge whether something is “good” or “bad” before I talk about it. Which brings me to…
  • Judgments: For example, “you are so selfish!” If this was in response to some action, this could be more truthfully stated “that was very selfish of you!” But that is still a judgment of the action. How about “I don’t feel like you had my interests in mind when you did that.” Yeah, I know, you wanted to stick it to an asshole for being an asshole and saying something like the latter makes you sound like a pansy. But that is kind of the point: the latter phrasing diffuses the attack. How likely is a yelling, screaming, violent argument after you have said something like that? In similar circumstances for me, it results in a discussion where we listen to and understand each other. I don’t feel hurt, and I don’t feel like I have inflicted pain (which also hurts).

I have heard that there is a Hindu proverb like:

He who never strays from the truth, what he says, must come true.

If anyone knows the exact form, I would love to see it. The amazing thing about that statement to me is that it is not a myth, but that it is in fact a tautology: it is true. See how? But I love the power that it implies, and indeed I have noticed my word becoming more powerful the more I commit to it.

Try it. I suggest simply observing when you say something that is not really true, perhaps for “effect”, perhaps out of conversational habit. See if you can rephrase it in a way that is really true. You might be surprised by the difference.