The White Lily Blog

Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil

Talk of the Nation on National Public Radio had an interesting program February 5.  The show hosted Brad Blanton, a therapist of thirty years and the originator of a movement called Radical Honesty. It is Blanton’s supposition that lying is the chief cause of depression, suicide, and relationship failures. Blanton says that lying is a prison in which, rather than telling the truth, we choose instead to “manage our identities” in the eyes of other people. It simply means, make ourselves look good at the expense of the truth.

If Blanton had stopped there, and given us ways to overcome that particular disability, the weakness of cowardice, we might’ve gotten somewhere.

Instead, he made truth dependent on some eastern-flavored version of reality, in which being “present” in a particular moment is the key to honesty, for then we will be able to realize our “primary identity” and the truth will be easy to tell. But, he adds, this only works in relationships of which we are certain. Fail-safe. Guaranteed.

Whoa! I was with him right up to then! Unfortunately, most lying occurs between people whose relationship is definitely not guaranteed to endure.   The relationship of a subordinate to a boss is not guaranteed.  A friend who tells her friend, yes, you do look fat in those pants, risks not getting invited to the next lunch date. It doesn’t matter how sweetly she says it.  If zero negative consequences is prerequisite to being honest, truth is doomed.

Yet I agree with Blanton when he says that lying causes horrible problems in the world and in our own personal lives. Sin always has terrible consequences, sometimes long after the event. But to help me avoid the sin of lying, I prefer the approach given in my Roman Catholic daily missal, the 1962 version available from Angelus Press. It’s the old-fashioned approach, in which we recognize that lying is a sin, that we are sinners by nature, that we need help, and that God will help us if we ask. There’s a prayer in this missal that asks God for the courage to take what Blanton might call ‘control of our identities.’ This little prayer reads like an anti-catalogue of brown-nose. After formally asking Christ to hear us, the prayer asks us to be delivered by the power of God from the desire of being esteemed, from the desire of being loved, from the desire of being extolled, from the desire of being honored, of being praised, of being preferred to others, of being consulted, of being approved.

Well, that covers just about everything we usually run behind! The prayer continues, asking God to deliver us from the weaknesses that cause us to lie, to deliver us from fear itself, from the fear of being humiliated, or despised, or rebuked, or forgotten, or suspected of something, or ridiculed.

I suffer all those fears. I love to be consulted and esteemed. (So do you!) When I pray this prayer, called the Litany of Humility (attributed to Cardinal Merry Del Val, an anti-modernist), I admit my weakness, and I ask God specifically to flat-out deliver me. It is as if these desires are so powerful, or I mean to say I am so disastrously weak, that it takes a huge counterbalance of strength, as big as God, to fight it.

And that’s exactly how it feels when one is in a situation where one should tell the truth, and is afraid to. Afraid of what the others will think. The heart pounds and the eyesight goes dim. Telling the truth may be the hardest of all human behaviors. You come face to face with your chains then.

I wish those troubled individuals who have opened fire at the mall or the school library and mowed down twenty or thirty innocent bystanders would have had a chance to pray this prayer every day. For so many of them seem to have suffered, and suffered very terribly, from rejection, without having any way to free themselves from the need for approval. They were thus unable to feel the real joy of true love, which forgets the self, as the prayer asks.  

I wish that every subordinate who sees a boss’s mistake could pray this prayer to be delivered from the fear of being fired, and then just let go with the good old truth. We would have fewer product-related deaths and recalled products and liability lawsuits. That would be real love.

I wish all the grunts everywhere had this prayer plastered at the time clock. And the bosses had theirs on the liquor cabinet door.

Notice I don’t say I wish human resource development offices or school marms would teach, in some generic, non-prayerful way, brave behavior as a “skill.” I don’t think it’s a “skill.” I think it’s a miracle— when people can actually tell the truth when it counts? When they actually might get fired, or rejected, or maybe shot? No, they get the strength to do that from the grace of God. It needs begged for, as they say so gracefully in Pittsburgh. It is not the default human behavior, because it does not always lead to the survival of the individual, even though, like all the ten commandments, it is good for the community. On the contrary: the individual who tells the truth is likely to suffer for it.

This is, of course, the message of Christ and Christianity. The whole message, if you’re thinking visuals. Look at the cross a minute. Who experienced the consequences of telling it like it is as painfully as Christ? Think how a guy as smart as a God would have had to have felt, nailed there half naked. Whose own people, whom he had healed and fed and saved from stoning and raised from the dead, had put him there. It’s the message of Christianity, simply to bear it as he did– only by some smaller percentage, of course. Simply to cheerfully bear rejection. I hate to tell Dr. Blanton, but out here in the real world, where there are no guaranteed relationships, that takes a miracle.

So even though Blanton stacked the deck with his caveat, to tell the truth, you must be in a guaranteed relationship, and was incredibly short-sighted to think some zenny “be here, now” will cause the required miracle instead of daily prayer and the grace of God, he’s right that the sin of lying causes major grief in the world. So why not try the prayer? The missal is available from Angelus or on my own link above. Oh, it goes better with the traditional Catholic mass which may already be available in your neighborhood, thanks to Benedict XVI’s motu proprio.

2 Comments so far
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Dear White Lily,

I agree with you that there are no guaranteed relationships except the one between man and God. I was more likely to tell the truth in situations in which I didn’t care about the reaction to my opinion. There was no emotional investment to be threatened there. In close personal relations, in which I feared a negative response, I was more likely to lie or hold my true feelings in. Ironically, I considerate it fortunate to be involved in a 12-step program. One is more prone to truth telling in a situation in which your deepest faults are a given. Weekly confession has also been a help.
I’ve been saying the Litany of Humility daily for months. It is a help but pride is a mountain we chip away at every day. Some days our tools seem very dull.

Comment by Rob Peles

Hi, Bob!

I got all excited, getting this comment, because I never met anybody else who knew about the Litany of Humility–and then I glanced at the sender, and it’s you! Of COURSE you would know about it! (I say that because people really ‘in the trenches,’ as you have been, find the help they need, and this prayer is the Good Stuff. Maybe God sends them to it.) But even so–how did you know about it? (Perhaps I mentioned it!)

Comment by thewhitelilyblog

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