Control Is an Illusion, Part 3: Timing and Truth

'Double Time' by my late husband, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

'Double Time' by my late husband, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Sydney, Tuesday

Until several years ago, the matter of truth was never a front-burner issue for me.

I haven’t taken truth for granted, though.  As I grew up, I read enough books, saw enough movies, and learned enough from friends with bad experiences to know that withholding truth could cause great damage.

In My Life

To the extent I’ve thought about truth at all, it’s been with a gradual awareness, and appreciation, that I’ve been told the truth by people closest to me.  Truth has always been a given, first with my parents and grandparents, later in my most important relationships.  Probably because I’ve been blessed in this regard, I learned two lessons.

First, tell the truth, even when it’s difficult (like telling my first love my feelings had changed, or telling my mother we were moving to Australia).  Second, whatever other people’s responses, it’s best to tell the truth, let them react, and keep moving forward.  We’re stronger than we think, and so are others, whether we’re on the giving or receiving end of the truth.

Some people say “I’d rather not know,” but I think most of us do want to know.  We know instinctively it’s better to tell the truth, we feel uneasy when we don’t, and we sure as heck want the truth from those closest to us.

Truth Control:  the Timing of Truth

In my previous post, I wrote about privacy and truth, and why people withhold truth and try to control who knows what in personal relationships.

It seems to me much of life’s hurt is caused by not only withholding the truth, but also trying to time the truth we share with others.

My partner, Clive, grew up in a family where some important truths were withheld, then later discovered due to circumstances beyond his mother’s control.  He speaks from experience in saying his comprehension of the actual facts (regarding his birth father and his parents’ divorce) was made far more difficult by two accompanying questions:  “Why didn’t you tell me before?” and “If I hadn’t learned this now, when were you going to tell me?”

It Just Adds Another Problem

Trying to time the truth just adds another problem to the real truth that’s being communicated.  The recipient has to absorb:

1.      whatever the real truth is, which is usually difficult or painful, or it wouldn’t be hidden in the first place

2.      added to #1, and sometimes overshadowing it, the recipient often feels hurt or betrayed in terms of communication and trust

So why do we try to time the truth at all?

Clive’s view is we simply don’t think that far ahead.  When we withhold the truth ‘until later’, we’re only thinking about the current situation and dealing with the present, not the fact that waiting until a future time will add yet another problem, and make things worse.

Pride Goes before (My) Fall

As I was busy shaking my head over Clive’s situation and tsk-tsk’ing over family members who weren’t always truthful, I proceeded to withhold an important piece of information from my young adult son.

I’m not going to share the details here, other than to say my intentions were good.  I didn’t want to worry him.  I didn’t want to burden him with something that was mine to handle.  He was far from home, approaching final exams at university, blah blah blah.

Uh-oh.  This sounds suspiciously like the list of rationalisations from my prior post.  And I must admit I was afraid to face his reaction, knowing he wouldn’t be happy with all aspects of a decision I made.

So I tried to control the timing of truth, and put off telling him.  When I finally did, his primary reaction was not about the decision itself, but “I wish you had told me sooner.”  He was unhappy with the information I shared, but equally or more upset I hadn’t told him before I did.

I wish I’d done it differently, and am thankful we’re still close.  It’s now past history and I haven’t beat myself up too much, but it’s something I can never change, and something I never want to do again.

An Ideal Worth Striving For


From my experience with my son, I hope I have learned once and for all there’s an ideal when it comes to the truth:  when others close to us are involved, tell the truth, and tell it now.

I’m sure this is a lifelong challenge, but through my relationships with two of the most important men in my life, I believe it’s an ideal worth striving for.   I have an ongoing resolve to live in such a way that truth is always a given.

I’ll end this series here, and put the discussion of truth back on the back burner, where it belongs.

Control Is an Illusion, Part 1:  But We Still Have Choices
Control Is an Illusion, Part 2:  Privacy and Truth

3 Responses

  1. i have been there ..especially with my eldest son…just have to get the timing right, which can be so hard.

  2. Extremely interesting… and very true.

    I just finished reading George Elliot’s Silas Marner. As you know if you have read this excellent novel (and I am sure you have) one of the primary characters makes a decision NOT to tell the truth about something very important and that decision has extremely grave consequences for him and others…

    You posts about truth are most excellent!

  3. Thanks Anne and Russell.

    I appreciate knowing I’m not alone in the ‘son communications’ department, and I do remember ‘Silas Marner’ from some years ago – great example.

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