Why can’t we tell the truth any more?
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Ancient wisdom from the Bible, and a phrase we are fond of repeating in Kenya. Why, I don’t know, as we have steadfastly avoided the truth for decades.
Most belief systems around the world revere the truth. The wise have always told us: hang on to the truth for dear life, for the truth is what will save you. Lies and deceit, on the other hand, will cause you to have a fake life, one in which you are constantly shifting and sliding, mounting untruth upon untruth in an ever-desperate, flailing mission to avoid being caught out.
Everyone knows this. So what happened to Kenya?
We have made a national habit of lying and evading. Is anyone telling you the truth? Our elected representatives seem to be liars for hire, willing to utter any blatant untruth that gives them allowances and rewards. Our appointed leaders seem to have no problem bending the truth beyond breaking point, telling us emphatically that that the hyena we have all been looking at is in fact a delightful butterfly, and repeating this ad nauseam.
Even in the private sector, truth is a scarce luxury. Most managers seem to live out an elaborate charade, one in which they pretend their companies exist to transform life on earth, where customers are always delighted and employees are always the most appreciated of assets. Rinse and repeat.
All over the public arena, lies are uttered with aplomb. It matters not whether you were caught on video, or eye-witnesses are arrayed against you: you will splutter, laugh and bluster your way past all your accusers. And these days you will engage in relentless tweeting and endless PR and spin, rather than a sober examination and acceptance of the facts.
What are we so scared of? Is the truth we are avoiding so dangerous, so unacceptable, that it will consume us if admitted? Not really. It is just individuals refusing to be accountable and protecting their various gravy trains.
It is evident to all, for example, that the authorities failed abjectly in their reaction to the recent Westgate atrocity. Many, many egregious mistakes were made in responding to the crisis and dealing with the attackers. At the end of the day, we have our top mall in ruins and looted of merchandise even though it was a secured scene. We failed.
But hell, will we admit it? Not a bit of it. We will keep trying to dole out eyewash, cloak ourselves in fake patriotism, malign those who ask hard questions. We will ask everyone to sing hymns of praise to those who failed, as though the entire event and its astonishing aftermath were just one big collective hallucination.
What is so very hard about saying the following? We messed up. We could have done this a lot better. We’ve learned some tough lessons. We are making some serious changes. We’ll be better and stronger next time.
That way we’d have a more secure nation, and so many lives would not have been lost in vain.
Notice, however, that that sequence can only begin with the unvarnished truth: a coming clean, an acceptance of the facts. Not facile denials and childish evasions.
Here’s the thing about the truth: it doesn’t go away. Denying it doesn’t make it unhappen. It is what it is. You can sit on it with all the commissions and evasions and avoidance tactics you like: it comes out eventually.
The longer you take to accept the truth, the weaker you become. The function of the truth in our lives, our organizations and our nations is to help us become better at what we do. We can’t do that if we can’t even accept there’s anything wrong with us in the first place.
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