Truth May Not be the Whole Truth, But that Kind of Truth May be Best

by Nathan Hershey

[Alicia’s article on this topic: “Is it Safe to be Honest?“]

Truth and honesty are essential to individuals successfully interacting with others, where they have mutual involvement and recognizing that they may not necessarily agree on everything, or a good bit, or an important element or set of elements within their interaction or relationship. The fact is that there’s often a difference in a sense of empowerment between people, where one individual assumes that he or she has, and deserves to have, greater power than others in the particular area of interaction.

Truth is something that people see or behold. That which one may see as a truth, everlasting or limited, others may see as just the opposite of the truth, or as just a variation of the truth. Examples would be helpful. Sometimes a person’s perception of the truth is based on value judgments that arise from the experiences of the individual, including parental influences and influences of institutions such as schools. In other instances, people’s views and opinions and desires have been brought about by other kinds of experiences, such as a serious medical condition or service in the military. In short, there are many influences upon us in our relationship to the world, as well as our relationship in a close family situation.

The question of what constitutes truth involves a concept of accuracy, but also it suggests that sometimes it is better, in a particular situation, not to expect or attempt to force another to be completely truthful. Consider a very simple example.

Assume that a couple is dressing to go out for a period of time, with another couple – perhaps for a meal or to attend some kind of performance. One asks the other how he or she looks. If you were giving an answer to that, as an individual, you may have concern that your expressions might turn out to be a little bit hurtful if you say to the individual that he or she would look better in another attire, or that the individual perhaps should make some other alteration in the manner in which they appear. People put considerable stock in how they are appraised by people with whom they have a close relationship. While this is not to say that people should not tell the truth, there is a question as to how much truth or accuracy is necessary in a social situation.

I think that some people may feel that they have the responsibility, and the ability, to go further in being critical, assuming that they are objective individuals and therefore they must give the truth as they perceive it or be very close to the absolute truth. Others may be sensitive to the thoughts or feelings of the people with whom they interact, and therefore moderate their language and actions in view of the personality or interests of others, and others’ ability to accept certain kinds of critical comments. It certainly is true, in my opinion, in my experience, that women and men adjust their views partly in view of the gender of the other person. Sometimes, a person may express their self more critically than they need to, other times they may be more forgiving. The person requesting the statement or information may be seeking to hear something critical so that they may feel that they can trust the individual – their partner, perhaps – to answer a question honestly.

When individuals are asked to give their opinions, with regard to some behavior, the question comes up – how frank should people be? Do they have to be concerned with upsetting the individual, if they are very frank? Does it lay the basis for injury or destruction of a particular relationship because one is speaking very forthrightly and critically? Do we have, as individuals, the responsibility to tell others what they should do and say? It may be good to have a relationship with each other where both persons can feel that they can be frank and relatively explicit with each other. With people who are more in the realm of strangers, it may be considered discreet or tactful not to say too much about the other’s conduct as long as there is no danger or threat created by the behavior of the other individual.

Now, one other thing related to this is, if a fellow and a young woman break up, how much of the reasons for this change should be shared with the friends of the members of the couple? My view would be that one should not pass on information that has been guarded in a personal relationship, unless there is a potential for threat or danger to another individual. One might say the Hershey Rule would be: “If the fellow or the woman is going to interact with another person in the general social group, let the new member of the group find out for himself or herself the information that may be relevant to why the change occurred – if they want to explore it.” I think that there’s a great deal of information that would be kept between two of a couple and not shared with others unless there is a danger to life, finances or other things that would be considered very important. I might say that, looking at my own situation over the course of my life, I didn’t feel that it was anybody’s business what I learned about a person of the opposite sex, and if someone wanted to learn something about that person they should get to know that person their self.

There is personal life and there is broader life. I think people should be pretty restrained in the information that they pass out, and if they do pass information to others it should be shared with the understanding, or at least the firm belief that there’s an understanding, that the information won’t be shared with third or fourth, or 58th, parties.

– Nathan Hershey

20th Century Man


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