Recently, I was watching a popular television show, where the storyline and the characters are all going through transition. Three candidates were preparing for the first stop on the primary election tour. Only one would walk away with their party’s nomination for president. All three were at odds with an issue at the center of discussion; an issue that would negatively affect many people, but not the people they were speaking to on this day. Television viewers watched each candidate struggle with their decision on how to handle it. Only one had the courage to tell the truth to his constituents, knowing full well of the consequences. The other two, listened to their handlers. The candidate who spoke the truth, barely made a dent in the polls. He wasn’t the popular choice. The other two went on to complete against each other. One of them won the election. How often do you slant the truth in an effort to be liked? To get something you want?
To get votes? To make a little extra money?
We all want to be liked. It feels good when people like us. We get invited to do things and go places, people don’t gossip about us, we’re part of the crowd—the in crowd, there is a feeling of community, we get votes, and we have entrée into a world often different than our own. However, it’s often this need to be liked that compels us to comply with things we don’t agree with, say things we don’t believe, and not speak up about something we know to be an injustice. When being liked or approved of is the driving force of our existence—for whatever the reason—we sometimes do things that go against our values.
I first I discovered the value of telling the truth and how much courage it took about twenty-five years ago. The lesson for me was painful, yet memorable. Perhaps, because I was on the receiving end. My mentor Louise Robertson was the first person who had the courage to tell me the truth about my inappropriate behavior, the poor choices I made, and how I affected others. Her candor provided me with not only useful feedback that changed my life, but she showed me, by example, that if you really love someone, you have a responsibility to tell them the truth. And with truth, comes risk of loss.
By having the courage to tell me the truth, she helped me step out of the darkness into the light. When I did something well—she told me. When I made an effort—she celebrated my trying. Appreciative feedback was important, particularly for someone like me who had been criticized so often. And, she never hesitated to let me know when something didn’t work. Her honesty was useful because she provided me with specific examples of what I could have done differently. She focused on my behavior, not me as a person. She helped me identify alternative ways of behaving. But it was mostly her willingness to tell me the truth that sent the greatest message: that honesty is the best policy. She risked me walking away from her.