Wright Foundation | April 3, 2018

How to Be Honest in a Post-Truth World:
Do Facts Still Matter?

Do you know how to be honest? Are you an honest person?

Do facts still matter? Yes they do, and you can learn how to be honest in a post-truth world.

Most of us probably answer “yes” to this question. And really? Most of us probably truly believe we are always honest.

A few years back, I had a session scheduled with a young man. I was running late, traffic was slow, and I arrived about seven minutes after our appointment was to begin. “Let’s get started! Traffic was terrible and made me late!” I exclaimed when I burst in the door.

The young man just sat there for a moment, crossed his arms and looked at me defiantly. I asked him what was wrong, and he said, “If I was a celebrity or the president, would you have still been late to our appointment?”

Right there, he had called me out on my “white lie.” It wasn’t that traffic was bad.  Now, in Chicago, traffic is notoriously bad and commute times are often long. It could have been one of the worst commuter days of the year, but it didn’t matter. The truth was, I hadn’t valued our appointment enough to plan to arrive on time. Granted, accidents happen, but they’re rare. Most of us have more control over being on time than we’d like to admit. We simply juggle our priorities to suit our convenience.

That man saw through me and pointed out I was F.O.S. (full of, well, sh*t).

Why Do We Lie and How to Be Honest?

We all lie because we have a sense of self and how we would like to be seen in the world. Lying isn’t always done with malintent. In fact, it’s often an unconscious defense. We even lie to ourselves and sometimes we don’t even realize we’re lying. It happens so automatically— “I’m late because traffic was terrible.” I just lied.

We lie because we want to shape the way others think of us. Look at the dating scene. Research shows 100% of dating couples lie!

These lies don’t stem from wanting to deceive someone else (usually). They stem from wanting to make a good impression—a desire to be liked and approved of. We want our date to believe we’re our best self. We may not even know how to be honest in the first place—creating an “image” has become so natural for us. Most of us wouldn’t walk in on a date and announce we’re difficult to get along with, we’re hard to please, or sometimes we don’t bother to get out of our pajamas on Saturdays. We usually don’t start out by bringing up our seven cats or our crushing student loan debt.

But what if we did? What would really happen if we moved to express our emotional truths, our likes and dislikes, as well as our feelings? Would every date head for the hills? Some may, perhaps, but you could rest assured those who stuck around were ready to accept you for who you really were, cats and all. Those who ran away? Well, down the road they were going to eventually discover those secrets you were hiding.

As kids we notoriously know how to be honest to a fault. Kids don’t fully embrace the social conventions of holding back their feelings. Kids will speak up and ask, “Why are your teeth crooked?” or “Why do you have that mole on your face?” Kids won’t pretend to eat a dinner they don’t like. They speak up. They say exactly what’s on their mind.

As time wears on, we learn to hold back. We view being too honest as being impolite. We tread lightly or hold back our true feelings so as not to offend someone else. We don’t speak up, even if we clearly see the emperor has no clothes.

In Hans Christian Anderson’s tale, the townspeople all politely acquiesce to the emperor’s claim he’s wearing beautiful invisible clothes. Everyone assumes the others see the clothing. They question their own perception of the situation instead of speaking up. Until finally a young child comes along and speaks the truth.

We may base our conceptual beliefs on what we believe as truths, but these ideas are tainted by our limiting beliefs about our own abilities. We may change them because of “stinking thinking” (a negative mindset) or irresponsibly shifting the blame. While our conceptual truths are true to our thoughts, they’re not always factual truths.

Truth and Facts: Are We Living in a Post-Truth World?

Studies show even when claims are proven false, we still may not be willing to change our beliefs.  In fact, many times this reinforces our beliefs. It makes us cling to them even harder and become even MORE assured we’re right. This seems is true in the larger social context of today, but it’s even true in our personal day-to-day interactions. If someone tells us gossip about another person, even if we know it’s wrong but trust the messenger, we will discount our own facts.

There is a Japanese film, Rashomon, that depicts the story of a murdered samurai. The story is told from different perspectives: the bandit who murdered the hero, the wife who was traveling alongside that day, a woodcutter who observed the crime from outside the situation and the dead samurai, himself. Each depiction is a different perspective. Each story participant has their own truth.

But how do we break down situations into factual truths? How do we ensure we’re aren’t relying on only conceptual and emotional truths, when we’re confronted with a situation?

We love a detective story: The image of Hercule Poirot, interviewing witnesses on the Orient Express to crack the case, or Sherlock Holmes, using the powers of deduction to pick apart details and discover the TRUTH. We love watching someone get to the bottom of a situation and uncover the truth.

Yet, in our own lives, we often rely on narrative scripts—stories telling us what we want to hear. In fact, there’s a phenomenon called the backfire effect, wherein we want stories and facts that confirm our beliefs. Researchers learn to watch for this occurrence in their studies, where it’s known as confirmation bias. We tend to interpret evidence in a way that confirms our existing beliefs and narrative rather than the factual truth.

It takes a great deal of capacity to deal with what Leon Festinger called the cognitive dissonance theory and see the truth in both sides. Human beings are particularly sensitive to inconsistencies between our beliefs and our actions. When we’re faced with a situation running counter to our beliefs, we feel a great motivation to resolve this—either through changing our beliefs, changing our actions, or changing our perceptions of our actions.

We live today in a culture of counter-attackers who obfuscate and obscure the truth. It’s become increasingly acceptable to change the narrative to fit their own wishes. It used to be that when a public official was called to the carpet on a situation, they would take one of two routes: deny it or apologize for it. Today, we’re seeing a shift where the norm is to counterattack the source of the facts and information (rather than disputing the information with solid proof).

There is less interest in discovering the factual truth, and more interest in convincing others. We live in an environment today where political motivation is being discounted as having any validity at all. And the person accusing others of political motivation never unmasks their own political intent. It’s unfortunately become a polarized game.

Why We Should Become Warriors for Truth

As we grow and develop our transformational skills, we start to learn the importance of sharing truth. Not only sharing our own truth, but actively seeking out and seeing the truth in others. This means, rather than allowing our beliefs to immediately cause us to dismiss another’s point of view, we need to seek out and connect with their humanity.

Not all of us think the same. We bring to the table a different set of experiences, beliefs and ideas. We each possess our own viewpoints. We can’t apply truth to a conservative vs. liberal argument (or any argument between an “A” vs. “B” perspective). The range of beliefs and points of view aren’t a polarity, but a continuum. There are responsible and irresponsible people on both sides.

We are all F.O.S. with a limited perspective and limiting beliefs. If we want to find the truth in any given situation, we need to look at the facts. We need to look at the measurable situations. We also need to treat each other as human beings with different ideas and perspectives. We need to see each other’s truth as the amalgamation of their experience.

This starts by telling the truth in our own lives. Examine your beliefs and what you know to be true. Commit to seeking the truth in all situations, based on facts—and even if it flies in the face of your emotional beliefs. Seek multiple perspectives. Embrace honesty.

When you’re late to a meeting, don’t blame it on traffic or the train. Realize, the areas where you’re fooling yourself and fight for the truth!

For more ways to discover a greater purpose in your life, please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming workshop where you will meet others who are focused on their personal growth. Don’t forget to check out our new courses and lectures. These are at a great introductory rate, so get yours today!

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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.