You Can’t Handle the Truth

By | October 9, 2020

[October 9, 2020]  A not uncommon theme I’ve hammered on a bit too much – some say not enough – here in these leadership pages is the absolute importance of telling the truth and having the courage to accept it.1  Despite its overwhelming importance, we are still driven to lie, cheat, steal, and dodge the truth.  To do those things that seem to come to us naturally (to lie) often works to our disadvantage and disgrace (being unable to accept the truth).

“Tell the truth, at least don’t lie.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson, Professor at the University of Toronto

Like so many of my readers who commented about the U.S. Vice Presidential debates two days ago, I found them interesting because of the style each candidate adopted and how they used that style to deliver their messaging.

There was a point in the debate when VP Mike Pence asked Senator Kamala Harris if she “supported packing the Supreme Court” if she and Joe Biden win the election.  She didn’t answer.  One is left with the obvious question of whether she can handle the truth (about packing the court) or whether she believes others can’t handle the truth.

Rob Reiner’s movie, A Few Good Men (1992) starring Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, and Demi Moore, was a real winner.  I never listed it as a good war movie because it is not about war but courtroom drama involving military men and women.  The setting is Guantanamo Naval Air Station in Cuba and how two young Marines are charged with the death of another Marine in a hazing incident.  You can read the review by Roger Ebert here.

The most famous scene in the movie is when “crusty old dog” Nicholson (the Guantanamo Commander) is questioned by inexperienced Tom Cruise (Navy lawyer).  The scene is so famous that it can be found on the Internet any time (see it here, YouTube video 3:51 minutes).

Cruise asks Nicholson about what happened in the hazing incident.  Cruise says, “I want the truth,” and Nicholson answers, “You can’t handle the truth!2  Very dramatic.  I recommend watching the movie.

Nicholson’s comment that you can’t handle the truth is similar to “If you can’t handle the heat, don’t stand in the kitchen.”  Of course, the kitchen is meant as a metaphor about the inevitable chaos and tragedy of life.  There are those whose job it is to deal with it; to fix it, or keep it inside a safe box.  That job is often messy, challenging, demanding, borders on the boundary between good and evil, and leaves us feeling uneasy.

If you pursue the truth, be prepared for answers you may not want to hear.

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  1. This theme about telling the truth is no accident. For us, as good social humans, we cannot live with lies.  Lies break the social bonds we so desperately need and corrupt our thinking to the point that we cannot trust even our thoughts.  It should be of no surprise to anyone growing up in the West that we encourage lying and disrespect those who tell the truth.  Here are a few links to some of my past articles (see here, here, and here).
  2. Here is the core of the exchange: “You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives…You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty…we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use ’em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it! I’d rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you’re entitled to!
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 “You Can’t Handle the Truth

  1. the ace

    One of the best movies of all time, IMO. I will also note that I find almost no one who can take the bare truth without flinching just a little. But that is what being a leader is about; take the truth, the facts, and go with them as we see them. Otherwise we fail those who follow.

    Reply
  2. Greg Heyman

    Wow, I know so many people in this category of not being able to take the truth that I’m amazed I’ve lived long enough to accumulate such idiot friends/acquaintances. Too bad I paid no attention to my mom who said to me, “Greg, chose your friends wisely.”

    Reply
  3. Georgie M.

    I don’t think most folks can handle the truth and that is why we are rewarded for lying.
    If we heard the truth all day long, we would run away.
    They call lying by another name, diplomacy. Also, kindness. All a bunch of hogwash to me.

    Reply
    1. Tracey Brockman

      Good point Georgie. Don’t you just love this website? I’ve been reading this almost daily for at least three years and every time I come to the site, I find something new and refreshing.

      Reply
  4. Dennis Mathes

    Gen. Satterfield, thanks for the entire quote. I also clicked the link (it worked well) and I got to see the scene with Cruise and Nicholson. They were good together. Nicholson, I must agree with others, was outstanding in this film as he is in so many. Perfectly fits the part.

    Reply
  5. Valkerie

    Another super article, General Satterfield. Love your website design also; simple, streamlined, and easy to follow.

    Reply
  6. Orange Man

    Should have told that to my ex-boss who was always taking credit for work he didn’t do.

    Reply
  7. Willie Shrumburger

    If you want to see this point about not being able to handle the truth, just look at what happened with the Commission on Presidential Debates. Their website here, https://www.debates.org/
    Another bunch of loony leftists working in a socialist, pro-BIden echo chamber.

    Reply
    1. Forrest Gump

      CPD ANNOUNCES SECOND PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE WILL BE VIRTUAL… ha ha ha ha, no it won’t. Stupid idiots., or to say it better, “STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES.”

      Reply
      1. Kenny Foster

        Forrest, you just kill me with that line even if I’ve heard it a million times.

        Reply
  8. Army Captain

    Excellent article for my early morning read. I too loved this movie and Jack N. is the greatest.

    Reply
  9. Max Foster

    Very good movie, “A Few Good Men” and it deserves a better reputation than it got. I tend to think that many of the Hollywood elite types – in particular the movie critics – tend toward extreme leftism bordering on Marxism. I don’t write that lightly or from listing a bunch of conservative talking points but from a lot of reading and research on the topic and listening to Hollywood actors, actresses, directors, and support people. The critics like Roger Ebert and others are leftists and they hate (and I mean HATE) anything to do with the military. Why is simple. They’ve been brainwashed to believe anything that is military is EVIL and Hitler-like. All part of the Marxist religion of total domination over the individual.

    Reply
    1. Yusaf from Texas

      I got to say you really nailed it Max. Great comment.
      👍👍👍👍👍

      Reply
    2. Jake Tapper, Jr.

      Max, you laid out this argument well. While I agree, it should come as no surprise to anyone reading Gen. Satterfield’s leadership blog. Thanks for the comment and stay tuned for new developments in Marxism (note to everyone, it is evolving once again).

      Reply
    3. Tom Bushmaster

      Excellent comment about the nutjobs in Hollywood. I’ve seen Gen. Satterfield write about them on occasion and do so with humor. Kill them with humor (metaphorically, of course).

      Reply
  10. Ronny Fisher

    One of my favorite movies. Jack Nicholson may play crazy or nutty people or passionate people but he is not a crazy. I like him and his acting works.

    Reply
    1. Harry Donner

      Ronny, as far as I can tell this is correct. A majority of actors seem to be absolutely nuts! Maybe it’s the drugs (no excuse, of course) or the alcohol (not excuse) but I tend to think it’s their insatiable desire to be morally superior to us moral pions. 😊

      Reply
      1. Eric Coda

        You are sooo right about that Harry and thanks for making this point. Actors mostly live in California, the land of “fruits and nuts.” Aptly stated, naturally and loudly.

        Reply
    2. JT Patterson

      Yes, one of my favorites too. I see in reading the review by Roger Ebert, that he didn’t like the movie too much. Oh well, I did and as usual, my views differs from the elitist movie critics. Fun to read how much the critics view of a movie is and the rest of us.

      Reply

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