Just Communication

Truthful words are not beautiful;
beautiful words are not truthful.
Good words are not persuasive;
persuasive words are not good.

(attributed o Lao Tzu)

The judge asks a defendant, "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" "I do, so help me God" replies the defendant with one hand on the Bible and the other held behind his back -- fingers crossed.

"How do you plead?" asks the judge aware that the prisoner has likely been coached by his lawyers to answer in the routine lie. "Not guilty, your honor," he responds, knowing that there is no honor in his words, and no respect for truth. It's just the way things are -- he way the justice game is played on technicalities and strategies, evidence and alibis, and nuances of meaning.

Witnesses are called and cross-examined. The prosecution seeks to bring out guilt, and defense twists the words of witnesses and re-interprets all the evidence. Judge and jury are expected to understand what's true or not. The courtroom is a conflicted muddled scene the air heavy with unspoken anger, fear, hope, and cynicism. In summation both prosecution and defense, compel judge and jurors toward different versions of the truth. Who's to bless and who's to blame? It's far too difficult to see the truth for words.

It's been that way since time began, since the primordial serpent in a garden convinced Eve that God was actually wrong about eating the fruit of the tree and didn't really mean what he had said. Ever since Adam covered up the naked truth and offered God an alibi. Years later in an ancient courtroom a judge asked Jesus to give account: "Are you the king of the Jews?" "What is it you have done?" Jesus replied, "My kingdom is not of this world." "So are you a king or not?" demanded Pilate. "You tell me -- because I am King, I was born and entered the world to witness to the truth, and everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth recognizes me."

"So what is truth?" -- countered Pilate rhetorically. He had judged long enough to not expect the truth from prisoners -- or from their accusers for that matter.

We have also become cynical and jaded for we know far better than to take advertising and media communication at face value -- and even interpersonal communication gets us second-guessing the real intent or meaning. We ourselves often evade the truth, and the truth eludes us. Sometimes the truth is difficult to speak at other times it's difficult to swallow. Truth isn't always beautiful or soothing, and sometimes isn't even all that interesting.

But truth can hurt, so it isn't what we like to say or hear especially when it's personal or close to home. So we casually hide the truth in words and camouflage in hidden meanings, distracting and misleading insinuations, by saying too much or much too little -- embellishing a little here and editing a little there. Before we even know it, we believe the lie we speak and call it truth.

"He isn't who he seems to be" we casually insinuate, "it's not that I think he's an alcoholic or anything; but he really likes his beer -- I'm just saying!" And thus an impression is created, and something is communicated that isn't true or just. We 'mis-speak' all the time -- saying "maybe" when really we mean "no," or saying "yes" just to hedge our bets in case no better offer comes our way; and saying we need "some time to think about it" so as to avoid confronting another person with disappointment or rejection on the spot.

Everything that you and I say conveys something about the truth. The words we speak communicate a message that may be true or may be not. We desire peace and justice in our lives -- while in our relationship and communicating with those around us we tend to be a bit manipulative or more, hiding our real motives, deflecting responsibility, unintentionally or directly engendering discord and distrust; communicating in ways that the truth becomes lost in words. In the end we have skewed and skewered the truth -- undermining the very essence of justice and peace which is built on truth.

Of course there is a place for tact in communicating the naked truth. But the line between diplomacy and duplicity is too easily crossed and too soon duplicity usurps the place of genuine diplomacy. "Just" communication is always a reliable carrier not distorter of the truth but both truth and justice are diminished every time we are "just communicating" to serve or save ourselves at the expense of others, no matter what spin we couch it in - of subtlety or directness, critique or compassion, humor or respect.

Our private intentions and motivations tend to color how and what we communicate.
Truth telling -- communicating justly and truthfully is an everyday challenge for most of us. It should be a way of life.

Jesus said ...
You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
(John 8:31, 32)