[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.
- 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).
- 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!”