Why Should We Tell the Truth? [updated]

By | June 16, 2022

[June 16, 2022]  Growing up, there was a television panel show called To Tell the Truth.1  My brother and I were always fascinated by it and by those folks on the panel (usually celebrities) to find out who was telling the truth and separate those who lie.  While watching, it was fun for us to try and figure out who was telling the truth.

Upon reflection, I remember wondering how the panelists could quickly discover who was telling the truth or not.  The answer to how they did that is not trivial.

The panelists would converse with the contestants by asking questions.  Through their questioning – a form of debate – they would transform their lack of knowledge into something that would raise the truth-telling contestant above the others (most of the time).

We are full of biases and opinions, blind spots, foggy thinking, and sloppy logic, especially about something complex, confusing, or unknown.  Like the panelists, we stumble around and make all sorts of mistakes in making progress in finding the truth.  Others are in the same situation.  But the truth will emerge out of the debate (like intentional questioning).  Just like the truth-teller in To Tell the Truth.

This dialogue process is why free speech is essential; through conversation, debating, and deliberate exchange of ideas, we discover what is good.2  It’s a messy affair, but it works.

If we tell the truth, or at least don’t consciously lie, then the outcome of our actions is good, morally and practically beneficial.  The idea that this outcome is “good” (regardless of how it appears) is self-evident and ethical.  Free speech, consequently, is important because this debate cannot exist without it.  Any other process cannot discover the truth.

A very fundamental question is why do we sincerely want people to tell the truth?  Indeed, we all believe the truth is the proper way to proceed.  Humans will forever be trapped in a room of illusion if we are not allowed to speak freely about what we desire.  We are told that the truth will set us free.  And, yes, that is categorically true.

[Update June 17, 2022]  What I’ve tried to do, especially toward the end of my tenure in the U.S. Army, was to show people why telling the truth is a good idea.  I did this not as a top-down, finger-wagging moral command but in a manner that explains the relationship between them telling the truth and the success and growth of their communities.  That connection is far more robust than people think.  I try to say that the burdensome responsibility of telling the truth, at least not lying, is inseparably linked to the meaning of life, their family, and their community.

Let’s look at people who have a life, the meaningful kind.  Their lives consist of a committed relationship, friends they are honest with, have a job or career, use their time productively and engagingly outside of work, regulate their alcohol and drugs, are attentive to their physical and mental health, and creating and following concrete goals.

Why should we bother looking at them?  Because they can show us that this gives our life meaning, and by following that path, we will be less miserable and bitter, aimless and frustrated, ashamed, and disappointed.  Human beings have nature; there are things we need.  We will be lost if we’re not operating on most of these parameters.

Have a noble goal, focus on it, be honest, and always tell yourself and others the truth about the goal.  That is the wisdom that propels us in life.

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  1. To Tell the Truth is a TV show in which four celebrity panelists are presented with three contestants (the “team of challengers,” each an individual or pair) and must identify which is the “central character” whose unusual occupation or experience has been read aloud by the show’s moderator/host. When the panelists question the contestants, the two impostors may lie, whereas the “central character” must tell the truth.
  2. For example, Horas, symbolized by the Egyptian Eye that is so famous, means to pay attention. In today’s understanding, this idea is about the sovereignty of the individual.  To pull from the unknown, the capacity to pay attention and speak truthfully takes danger and transforms it into something we can tolerate, which is ethically a good thing.

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Please read my new book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” on Amazon (link here).

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

27 thoughts on “Why Should We Tell the Truth? [updated]

  1. Rev. Michael Cain

    To tell the truth, more important than we can imagine.

    Reply
  2. Audrey

    Gen. Satterfield, great update (at end of your article). The final part puts a period at the end of an exceptional blog post. I’m happy you expanded on your ideas here and liked the final couple of paragraphs. Keep these ‘updates’ going. Thanks.

    Reply
  3. Dog Man

    Tell the truth and you will be a person you can tolerate.

    Reply
  4. Tracey Brockman

    Gen. Satterfield, excellent subject to write about and a much needed discussion here in the forum you’ve provided for us. Thanks for that. To tell the truth has many layers of need. Trust and its opposite betrayal. We’ve witnessed them all. The truth, does indeed set us free. But there are many today, esp. the young who are willing to sell their freedom (and ability to tell the truth) to tyrants for a simple handout.

    Reply
  5. Plato

    “There is nothing so delightful as the hearing, or the speaking of truth. For this reason, there is no conversation so agreeable as that of the man of integrity, who hears without any intention to betray, and speaks without any intention to deceive.” — Plato

    Reply
    1. 76 Wife

      “Truth is the beginning of every good thing, both in heaven and on earth; and he who would be blessed and happy should be from the first a partaker of truth, for then he can be trusted.” — Plato, another one for us to contemplate. It is interesting that what Gen. Satterfield wrote is fully in-line with Plato.

      Reply
      1. Liz at Home

        Yep, and just why there are so many fans to this leadership website.

        Reply
  6. Don Snow

    I think we can find the answer here:
    If we tell the truth, or at least don’t consciously lie, then the outcome of our actions is good, morally and practically beneficial. The idea that this outcome is “good” (regardless of how it appears) is self-evident and ethical. Free speech, consequently, is important because this debate cannot exist without it. Any other process cannot discover the truth.

    Reply
  7. Fred Weber

    Gen. Satterfield says, “A very fundamental question is why do we sincerely want people to tell the truth? Indeed, we all believe the truth is the proper way to proceed.” If so, then why do we lie so often and so brazenly?

    Reply
  8. Dead Pool Guy

    Gen. Satterfield, I liked your footnote on the Egyptian god Horas. I’d like to know more about him from your perspective and how that integrates into your idea that we must tell the truth in order to not be corrupt. Our political elites are HIGHLY corrupt and they also lie without remorse. There is a link, but I’m unclear about it.

    Reply
    1. osmodsann

      Good comment dead pool guy. I’m like to read more too.

      Reply
  9. Kerry 6

    Hi Gen. Satterfield, enjoyed another one of your spot-on articles. Keep up the wonderful work you are doing on your website.

    Reply
  10. Max Foster

    Right! Gen. Satterfield hits us between the eyes on his most recent explanation why we should tell the truth. If you want a look at an important leader who refuses to tell the truth on important matters, then look no further than Pres Joe Biden (a real liar). Look at what is happening to his approval ratings and how he is leading is political party down into a major defeat in this upcoming election. If only he would tell us the obvious truth and come out and be honest. He appears incapable of doing so. And thus he loses our respect and we can no longer trust him.

    Reply
    1. USA Patriot II

      Ouch, hammered that point home, Max. Well said. 👍👍👍👍👍

      Reply
  11. Joe Omerrod

    I remember the show, “To Tell the Truth.” There is a newer version of the show, not as good as the old B&W version.

    Reply
    1. Dale Paul Fox

      My whole family would sit down and watch it for 30 minutes every weekday. We loved it. To this day, we still will occassionally bring the show up and laugh. Good times. Good clean fun. Good family time.

      Reply
    2. Harry Donner

      Great tv show! 👍 I rarely saw that about any television show but this one was great in my book.

      Reply
        1. Valkerie

          Thanks Bryan for the reference. General Satterfield sure has been on a roll lately. I love this website for many reasons and I’m not too surprised that it’s popularity is increasing.

          Reply

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