To Tell the Truth

Every day, during our morning “huddle” (pastoral services department daily briefing) we are reminded of the “behavior of the month.” These behaviors are reflective of the core values of the hospital.

Back in February, the behavior of the month was, “We tell the truth with courage and with empathy.” One of my peers asked me what I thought that meant. As I explained to her my (then) understanding of the behavior – that courage means to be brave (bold) in telling the truth and empathy means to seek to understand the other person and how they might receive that truth – as soon as I said these words, something began to stir in me. I was not quite settled with my definition. Looking back, I see why.

Interestingly enough, we, the residents, had been struggling in our “truth telling” with each other i.e. – there was a lot of truth telling with courage and not a lot of empathy. We were sharing the truth (as we saw it) about each other, and without regard for how others might receive it.

Given my unofficial goal of becoming bolder in sharing what I really think and how I really feel, I was guilty of this at least once… maybe more. At times, my newfound boldness has been at best, awkward. And given my lack of skill in this department, it sometimes came out harsher than I would have liked – maybe even a little judgmental. Truth be told.

No one gets through this CPE experience unscathed. But my sharing this here is part of my process toward greater self-reflection and self-awareness. I am learning…and growing. Telling the truth is taking on new meaning for me. After having tried the truth-telling with courage, adding the empathy was a game-changer.

Empathy is the ability to understand what another person is experiencing – whether you yourself have experienced the same thing or not. And if you have, not letting your experience cloud or interfere with theirs (we call this countertransference). It is entering another person’s world without judgment and being willing to sit there with them as they process and work through it.

But the real reason empathy changes the game is because it puts into question the truth you want to tell and your motivation for telling it. YIKES! This becomes the real game changer – and I realize I have gotten it all wrong so far… I was thinking to tell the truth is to correct someone else.

What I am learning in this journey through CPE is that to tell the truth is not to correct another. The work of CPE is about me. I need to discover and reveal my own truths. The hard part is that the real truth is often buried deep beneath the surface. For example, telling the truth can be saying you struggle with anxiety. But what is buried beneath that anxiety – what is causing the anxiety? What is the real truth?

This mean to tell the truth you have to be vulnerable. You risk being misunderstood, labeled, criticized, ostracized, or simply left feeling foolish.  

Telling the truth is risky, but with risk comes reward. My experience has been that there is always freedom and growth on the other side when we release the things we keep buried deep within.

I have also learned NOT telling the truth is just as risky, because it keeps you right where you are – no change – no growth. In fact, keeping your truth buried is more work because it tends to come out at inappropriate times, in inappropriate ways – and then that needs to be covered.

Being vulnerable takes courage.

I am all about honesty and I want to release my “stuff” but at the same time I have precious few people I can be vulnerable with – you cannot be vulnerable with everyone.

Who can you trust with your junk, I mean truth? Who can you trust to hold space for you as you process?

Recently in our inter-personal group (IPG) time, I had to decide if I was going to take a risk and be completely vulnerable and expose the deep truth hidden beneath the surface truth I had been offering up as being vulnerable. I knew if I was going to allow the work of CPE to be complete in me this year I needed to be honest with myself and risk sharing that truth with my peers. Would they still like me? Would they treat me differently? Would everything I say or do from here on in be seen through my ugly truth lens?

Finally, I said it out loud. It was received with love… and others seemed to soften as well… maybe it actually created a safer place than we had before for others to be vulnerable, when they are ready to share.

Another thing I have learned (by trial and error) is that vulnerability cannot be forced… and you cannot demand it from others. But it can be a powerful force for your own growth.

As I wrap up this post I have a deeper understanding of what it means to tell the truth with courage and with empathy. I am rewriting my own behavior of the month: “I tell my own truth with courage and have empathy for the truth of others.”

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