Virtually all of us believe in the importance of telling the truth. I am certain we would condemn practices such as lying, deceiving, and bearing false witness against our neighbor. Any of us who have ever been cheated by the false promises of an unscrupulous salesperson could get worked up recalling the wrongs we have endured.
But I observe a curious exception in our desire for truth-telling that is worth exploring. On the one hand, we condemn lying and dishonesty. But on the other hand, which one of us really wants to know what others truly think of us? Children don’t appreciate their parent’s words of correction, even when deserved. Students are dismayed when they receive a low grade on an assignment, even if their writing skills are atrocious. Husbands don’t appreciate being reminded about the unfinished honey-do project, even if it’s long overdue. Workers, hungry for praise and a raise, have little appetite for honest, constructive criticism. When it comes to the truth about ourselves, we’d rather hear feel-good fibs than the transforming truth.
Am I exaggerating? Ask yourself this question: “When was the last time I went to my spouse, work supervisor, parents, children, business associate, or a trusted friend and asked them how I might improve, grow, or become better at what I do?” We probably have many reasons for not doing this: We are afraid of getting our feelings hurt. We don’t trust some people to give us fair and balanced feedback. We think that some people are impossible to please. We fear hearing the truth about ourselves we already know and secretly hope others aren’t noticing.
Now it is true that you have to take the critiques of others with a grain of salt. People’s evaluations may overstate your weaknesses or pick on secondary concerns that aren’t really that important in the big scheme of things. But are we really so thin-skinned that we can only receive positive feedback from others? Is our self-esteem really so fragile that we never want to hear about areas of needed improvement?
Jesus once said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Though the original context of this statement in John 8 concerned the disciples continuing to live in Jesus’ words, I wonder about its application to our being open to the truth others may have to offer us. Unless you think you’ve already achieved perfection, there are always more ways in which you can learn and grow. That learning and growth can “set you free” from bad habits, the casual acceptance of mediocrity, sinful blind spots, unwarranted feelings of entitlement, feelings of self-pity, and unbalanced perceptions of your “enemies.”
Here are a few parting questions for us: Can we get in the practice of inviting the critique of trusted friends and mentors? Can we practice receiving honest feedback without defensiveness or excuse-making? Can we persistently seek the truth so that the truth might continue to set us free?