The Truth, the Whole Truth?
The importance of telling the truth
by James Lamont (revised, originally published in 2009)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider why it is better to tell the truth.
Preparation and materials
Read, or arrange for a number of students to read, the poem ‘Matilda’ by Hilaire Belloc. It is available at: www.poetry-archive.com/b/matilda.html
Read, or arrange for a number of students to read, the poem ‘Matilda’ by Hilaire Belloc.
Why tell the truth? There’s much to gain from lying, especially if you are guilty of something. It can often be easier to lie than to face a harsh fact: that you’ve done wrong or that your day has just got harder. People lie to each other all the time: you will probably have been lied to already today. In a world where the truth so often seems ignored, why lose out for the sake of ‘the truth’, whatever that is?
Even though it may be hard to say what ‘the truth’ is in a general sense, in most situations, it is quite easy to identify what is the truth. You know what is the truth and what is a lie; we all have this sense within us. We cannot tell a lie unknowingly. Of course, we can make a mistake and say something incorrect. Few people would say that this is wrong, but it may well cause problems later on. For example, if you try to help someone with their work, but your answer is incorrect, you have not done something immoral, but they will lose marks.
Lying is different. The liar knows that what they say is incorrect; they aim to deceive and provide an inaccurate description of the world or themselves. The liar is then responsible for the bad outcomes of their deception. Lying is wrong in this sense because it creates problems for others that need not have arisen: they acted in good faith on your lie.
This reveals another problem: lying damages the person who tells the lies, too. Someone who tells lies cannot be trusted and they cannot successfully lie forever. Human relationships are built on trust and the person who lies gains none. Without trust, one cannot lie to others, because the lies will not be believed. Eventually, someone who lies will be found out and what they say, even if it is true, will not be believed any more. They will be isolated because people feel that they cannot trust them.
Of course, there are different types of lies. A lie can be a good thing in some circumstances, in cases when the truth could hurt another’s feelings. However, a lie, if continued, can inflate and become impossible to maintain. In such cases, the discovery of the truth can be more painful than it would have been if the lie had not been told in the first place.
Fortunately, we can deal with these moral questions. Our conscience tells us what is right. Listen to your conscience and develop it; don’t ignore it, because if you do, you are not being true to yourself.
Time for reflection
At the end of the poem ‘Matilda’, we find the words: ‘For every time she shouted “Fire!”/They only answered “Little Liar!”’
Matilda’s lies meant that no one believed her when there really was a problem.
You may not be shouting ‘Fire’ today, but when will you be tempted not to tell the truth? Maybe to elaborate the truth, exaggerate or tell a ‘white lie’ to get you out of trouble?
You may not be shouting ‘Fire’ today, but when will you be sidling away from the truth? Maybe the dog really did eat your homework this time!
Help us to tell the truth sensitively and honestly,
Recognizing that without truth,
The world would be a worse place to live.
Help us to tell the truth today.