Truth and Trust

In an earlier post, I featured a quote from Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, that focused on his outlook on relationships within an organization. He said:

Leadership today is all about two words: It’s all about truth and trust. You’ve got to have their back when they didn’t hit it out of the park, you’ve got to have their back when they hit it out of the park.

When they trust you, you’ll get truth. And if you get truth, you get speed. If you get speed, you’re going to act. That’s how it works.

In other words, trust is the foundational piece that people need to make truly wholesome, productive relationships work. I believe that. And, I noted that sometimes I get things upside-down by attempting to bank on truth when I should be investing in trust.

Even if trust is that foundational element, you may ask, “What about those times when trust is not available? How do you deal with truth in those instances?”

Those are interesting questions. We live in a culture where we play lip-service to the supremacy of truth. Truth is all important. Truth reigns supreme. Yet, the truth is, the truth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Don’t get me wrong. I believe there is great value in truth.

Photo Credit: In Search of the Truth

Photo Credit: In Search of the Truth

The problem is, I don’t always know exactly what the truth is. I “know” what I have personally observed, although even that direct witness is shaded by my perception — my reality. And I also know that my perception isn’t always the most accurate reflection of an event. I may also “know” what others tell me that they have oberved. Again, their observations are shadowed by their perception and further clouded by my perception and interpretation of what they’ve told me.

So how do we attend to essential matters in an environment where there is no trust. What do we do with our “truth?” I was conditioned to charge fearlessly forward when I have truth on my side. Indeed, this is the Western Civilization ideal in those trustless moments. Sometimes my perception of the truth may also cause me to retreat shamelessly in the face of overwhelming odds. But either response must be done at our own peril and based on our perception of truth.

Much is being said these days about the way that people react to certain situations. A timely example is the discussion about how police officers respond in anxious times to individuals of different races. Dealing with their perceptions of the instant and with the perceptions of experience or story, these officers determine what degree of response is necessary. What we are seeing is that the “truth” that they often hold about the danger posed by an individual of one race or another isn’t always the truth at all. Instead, it’s the product of stereotype and misinformation — and sometimes training and sometimes outright prejudice. And sometimes their reaction is exactly right. Choosing well is an extremely difficult task.

We need to understand that the human brain’s establishment of “truth” is an important element of decision-making and self-preservation. However, that doesn’t trump the importance of discernment in the process and in the moment.

The application of the instant “truth” comes at great price. When we are in those situations we must remind ourselves of the constant danger that our truth — our perception — could be flawed. And the larger question becomes, “Can I handle the consequences of mistake?” Decisions must be made. Actions must be taken. But asking ourselves about consequences brings us back to that place of discernment.

I can operate in an environment where there is no trust. It won’t be pleasant and it may be dangerous. Even as I do my best, I must constantly test my “truth.”

For today, in a trustless moment, I will test truth by:

  • Seeking to understand the actions and reactions of others.
  • Asking whether I can accept the consequences of acting on my perceived “truth.”
  • Searching within for mercies I can extend both during and after my action.

Trust should really come before truth. And truth should always be tested — both in and out of the presence of trust.

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