Whose Truth

“Tell the truth to yourself, and the rest will fall in place” - The Avett Brothers

When I first started my career as a lawyer, I firmly believed there was only one truth—one “right.” And while it might’ve taken some time, if we simply kept digging, taking depositions, looking at documents and interviewing people, we would find the truth, and the outcome would be clear.

But over the years, I’ve come to realize that this is simply not true.

When we tell our stories to other people, we do a fair bit of editing. Oftentimes, we tell the truth we wish were true. We leave out some of the struggles, we amplify the successes, we gloss over the pain.

And then there are the stories we tell ourselves. With rare exceptions, we also often tell ourselves the truth we wish were true. Sometimes that “truth” focuses on the positive (“I was the hero of the day,” when it was really a team effort). Other times, we use the “truth” to forgive our inaction (“I’m just one person, what can I do?” or “My actions don’t matter. Lots of other people will show up, so I won’t be missed”).

And then there are the really destructive “truths” we tell ourselves—the ones that aren’t true at all:

“I’m a bad person.”

“This is all my fault.”

“I don’t deserve (fill in the blank).”

“I’m not loveable.”

For these thoughts, we need to step back and really examine what’s actually the truth. Byron Katie calls this “The Work.” In this case, there are four questions we should ask:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

I’ve listened to The Avett Brothers’ new album, Closer Than Together, on my Spotify playlist pretty much every day since it was released last month. The tune and phrase that keeps sticking in my mind is “Tell the truth to yourself, and the rest will fall in place.”

It’s so easy to ignore the messy things—to gloss over the painful bits, to blame the hard facts on others and to tell ourselves things that aren’t true at all. Why is it so hard to say “this is my truth,” without editing or judging? Is it because we fear the judgment of others, or because we’re afraid to acknowledge the hard things because doing so might mean we don’t get what we want (approval, love, or another term in office)?

Or is it because the truth might mean we have to change, and change can be uncomfortable?

I wish I had some great truth to share with you as an ending. That would be tidy and satisfying. But I don’t. However, what I do know is that as we watch the current political drama unfold—and as we move through the often-challenging holidays—it’s important to wrestle with these questions. Our tendency to avoid hard truths is damaging, and so is our tendency to tell ourselves things that are clearly untrue. Since I don’t have a great answer, I’m going to rely on the Avett Brothers and trust that things will fall in place.

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