Telling the Truth

Truth is not highly valued in the world today. Or perhaps I should say that it is highly valued in concept but not valued highly enough to practice consistently. Generally speaking, perhaps it never has been. In Judeo-Christian history, it has held high value. In the developing years of the United States, it appears to have been valued. Today, its value does not seem to be appreciated.

Dr. Bill Hodges, a man that I highly respected, served as a medical missionary in rural Haiti for 40 years. I would sit at his table when visiting him and listen to him share his insight about the Haitian culture (which is African) in comparison to that of the U.S., from his Christian perspective.  I’ll never forget one morning as he shared about how the U.S. was becoming more and more like the Haitian culture in many ways (more pagan), including from the perspective of truth. He said that Haitians typically place little value on truth and place much more emphasis on relational peace and pleasing. In relationship, for example, telling the truth is always secondary to making one happy, avoiding conflict, and meeting expectation. He said this was the one main reason that so much scientific progress was made in Judeo-Christian cultures over the past two or three centuries. Accurate results (telling the truth) were recorded for the next guy and therefore the wheel didn’t have to be constantly reinvented while seeking the truth in a scientific solution. In the Haitian culture, however, tomorrow has little value and accuracy and truth-telling likewise. Therefore, scientific progress is next to impossible in Haitian and African cultures. He shared that it was evident to him that in the U.S. today, other things were being given higher value than truth, such as looking good, appearing successful, being popular, keeping the peace, doing less work, pleasing another, making more money, short-term gain, etc. He said that culturally, the U.S. was becoming like Haiti.

Brazil is like Haiti and the current U.S., in that truth is valued as a concept and as a means to an end.  In Brazil, the concept of truth is held dear and virtually all would agree as to its importance.  But in day to day interaction, the effort required to always say what is truthful is not realized.  Brazil is very much like African culture in that truth telling is not highly valued, unless the truth can be a means to an end.  It is not valued in and of itself.  After living here for a while, I’ve concluded that no answer can be trusted to be the truth in any situation, but any answer, if it’s important at all, will need to be verified.

On our recent fact-finding trip to the State of Amazonas, after a short time it became frustrating and/or comical how many times we asked various people the same question and gathered very different “facts”. We rarely heard, “I don’t know.” Most answers were embellished or minimized to add weight to their answers. It was clear that the desire to look good, to impress, or even to encourage far outweighed the desire to speak what was true. I’m pretty sure they simply stay away from looking at anything in absolute terms. If all is relative, then all is true (or all is false). This is a very relative culture. In a medical interview, I can almost never get specific answers about anything. One of the funniest parts of a medical interview here is trying to get someone to tell me how long they have had a symptom.  It’s always, "a very long time" or "not long at all".  It usually takes me asking four or five different times (in different ways) before I get anything close to specific.  Perhaps there is a fear of being incorrect, I don’t know, but it can be difficult to get accurate facts while seeking to identify a medical problem as well as while seeking information about regions and cities.

Parenthetically, this is one reason medical malpractice in the U.S. is so ridiculous. When a medical interview (the most important part of the patient-doctor interaction) is reconstructed in a courtroom, the presence of all posturing, exaggeration, minimizing, lying, and misunderstanding is ignored even though these are a very real part of every medical interview. One of the biggest challenges in being a physician is that lying to some degree is so often part of the medical interview, in the form of embellishment, minimizing, or other forms of truth distortion.  Medicine is challenging and problem-solving is fun; determining whether someone is telling the truth is exhausting.

I have embellished stories to look good and I have lied for various reasons. I can remember once lying to a newspaper reporter about my baseball career (when I was in my twenties!) and feeling so ashamed when I saw my words in print. I used to exaggerate or minimize to illicit a reaction; the same thing I see so much of here.  Over the years, I’ve grown up, I guess, and I have gained appreciation for the value of speaking the truth. Perhaps I have been on the receiving end of non-truth enough to recognize its destructiveness and the frustration it causes.

In so many ways, Amazon Brazil is a culture stuck in perpetual adolescence. It is so hedonistic, especially regarding speaking truth and regarding seeking immediate pleasure over long-term benefits (which is why we lie). After living here for four years, I have come to the conclusion that I will not believe anything a Brazilian says to me unless they have demonstrated (many times) that they are truth tellers or unless I can verify the information myself.

Truth telling is so absent from this culture, and from what I’ve heard, it is also absent in other Latin American cultures, African cultures, and today’s U.S. culture. I’m not sure about Asian cultures but I suspect something similar. It appears to be human nature to place appearances over truth-telling.  I appreciate the absence of truth-telling now more than I ever have and am saddened by it. Jesus valued truth along with trust and love. I am seeing why these are important to God. Life without His core values is pretty dark, and I am worshipping Him this morning with new appreciation for His character and the value He places on truth.  Being truthful and being real are such integral parts of trust, which is such an integral part of any intimate relationship, which is what God is all about. 

Please commit with me this morning to be truthful in all our communication, without embellishment or minimizing, letting our “yes” be yes and our “no” be no. Let’s say “I don’t know” freely and without embarrassment, when appropriate. This phrase should come off of our lips more often.

Father, I am sorry for not valuing truth like you do and appreciating something that you hold quite dear, for good reason. Thank you for opening my eyes to the beauty of truthful, accurate communication.


Further Thoughts

1) The pursuit of a dream is not a worthy endeavor. To pursue the God that made you, and His purposes for you, is a worthy endeavor.

2) The more reality varies from your ideal (the way life “should be”), the more likely that you will be depressed, frustrated, and discontented.

3) Recalling a man’s words accurately is honoring.  Altering them kills trust.

4) The majority of the world’s religious people ignore that God desires relationship with them.

5) Two men enter the jungle to live.  One enters with nothing.  The second enters with tools, food, water, counsel from those who have lived there and much study to prepare.  Adulthood is like the jungle.  Be the second man, equipped.

6) Acknowledge your weaknesses (we all have them), work in your strengths.

7) Remember that the message of the cross is foolishness to those perishing.  You will be called foolish, stupid, simple, etc. if you follow Jesus.

8) A good teacher imparts the same truths repeatedly to his/her various students.

9) Our Father is not looking for more excellent leaders, but rather He is looking for "normal," flawed people who are willing to lead, dependent on Him.

10) Kingdom response, "Yes, Lord!"

11) You have desires, plans and dreams but what is your Father calling you to do today?

12) God’s heart for His children (Prov 24:32):  When I observed it (situation, circumstance, etc.), I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction.

13) To be baptized in Jesus is to be forever washed.

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