Why is truth telling so often considered courageous? Here is a dictionary definition of the word courage: “Mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”
In recent years, when I shared with friends that I am writing an honest book about my twenty years as personal attendant to Amma, the most frequent comment has been— “You are very courageous.” After letting out a sigh, “I guess I am,” would be my usual response.
I sigh because I know that my truth telling will test my mental and moral strength to withstand difficulty–or worse. Some will call me a liar and won’t believe one word, so as not to upset their applecart. Some will judge and wonder about my reasons for coming forward. I imagine that many will thank me for taking this so-called courageous step.
I believe there are many situations in life where the truth need not, or should not, be shared, especially if it serves no purpose and will only cause undue harm. But when one believes that certain information can benefit people and prevent them from causing harm to themselves, isn’t it your duty to speak up? For example, what if you found out that your dearest friend’s husband was not who she believed him to be, that he was a liar and having multiple affairs. Despite the initial pain your friend might experience, isn’t it in her best interest to know the truth? She may choose to live in denial—which is her right. She may turn on you—a risk you must be willing to take.
On the other hand, through the weight of this knowledge she might be able to re-evaluate her life. She can weigh the pros and cons and determine whether there is benefit from the life she is leading. She can decide whether she is willing to live a life of compromise, or if it is time to move on. Silence might be the easy way out, but would your conscience give you any peace until you spoke up?
One should not confuse honesty with being critical or judgmental. Apart from the importance of factual accuracy, much depends on one’s intention. Judgment occurs when one has an agenda, for example, if your perceptions are jaded by anger, jealousy, revenge or the like. However, if your heart is open, your conscience is clear, and you honestly believe your words will help— then this is not criticism or judgment, but truth telling.
Every child, at some point, needs to hear that Santa doesn’t exist. He is not that big old man with the white beard who places the gifts under your Christmas tree. At some point, they have to “grow up” and face reality. They are not deprived of anything. Instead, they now have a greater appreciation and understanding of the true source of their wonderful gifts. The only thing lost is the illusion.