The whole truth and nothing but

The whole truth and nothing but

Many of our people problems at home and at work come from the common mistake that we can know not only the truth, but the whole truth … and nothing but.

We can’t—and that’s why I can’t imagine being selected for a jury. How could anyone take the oath “I solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth .. so help me God,” when the most anyone can do is promise not to wilfully lie or withhold information.

 A narrow view of the truth

There's so much more that we can't see.
There’s so much more that we can’t see.

Our early education is designed to have us  accept certain narratives as absolute truth.  Truth itself—what is it and how can we know it—is never really discussed; at least not any deeper than “it’s in the Holy Book.”

We’re taught that there is one truth and it’s what we’re teaching. Don’t question the parent, teacher, priest, boss etc., just accept it as true.

The truth is like an elephant

What the hell is this thing?
What the hell is this thing?

It’s way too big for any one of us to know absolutely, especially not on a first cut.

The truth is like the parable of the blind men encountering an elephant for the first time with each only able to touch a part of it; one a tusk, one the trunk, one the tail etc.

Imagine the arguments they would have if each believed that their experience alone represented not only the truth, but the whole truth.

By contrast, imagine the excited conversation if they knew their experience represented only a piece of a larger truth. They would seek each other’s experience out like pieces to an amazing jigsaw puzzle.

Why isn’t life not like that?

THE truth explains much of human conflict

Single stories held as THE truth explain much of human conflict—at home, at work, and across borders—because it fosters mistrust and judgment.human conflict

If you don’t agree, then there’s something wrong (or worse) with you because I know THE truth—and by extension the WHOLE truth—which means if you say something different, we can’t trust you and we can’t include you. We’ll have you fired, locked up or killed.

Truth in a dysfunctional workplace

No! This is what happened.
No! This is what happened.

If you’re in a dysfunctional workplace, this phenomena explains much of why people can’t work together well.

They believe they have THE truth about situations, co-workers and their intentions and they are unwilling to consider their truths as valid but incomplete perspectives.

“Management is exploitive and doesn’t care about workers,”


“Labour is lazy and only wants a free lunch,”

are superficial truths that don’t encourage either side to look any further; which then causes escalating cycles of reactions that entrench positions, reinforce negative beliefs, poison relationships, and make collaboration difficult to impossible.

Truth is mostly perspective and interpretation

jigsaw puzzleHuman beings can only have perspective and interpretation, but with collaboration, experimentation and reflection we can approach the truth.

Our downfall is that—like the blind man whose only experience of an elephant is its trunk—we confuse our first teachings, perspectives and interpretations as THE truth.

Our perspectives are unique and a part of an amazing jigsaw puzzle that we can only piece together if we collaborate, instead of arguing that my experience is right and yours is wrong—the way we do now.

Truth is not a zero-sum game

In other words, someone else’s experience need not negate yours but could add to it.

Seek other pieces of the jig-saw puzzle

cooperate to fit puzzle
Would you argue that a piece of the puzzle was wrong?

Like the blind men sharing their truth about the elephant, seek out other people’s experiences and perspectives like valuable pieces to that jig-saw puzzle.

Consider that truths that appear contradictory may not be. They may be how the truth turns up under different circumstances; from different perspectives.

Take the oath

If you’re called for jury duty I can’t advise you to not take the oath, but remember that the most anyone can say is that they promise not to wilfully lie when they take the stand.

They can swear to give their own interpretation of what occurred for them, from their point of view. It’s coloured and filtered by the lenses of bias and cognitive processes.

It may well be honest, but it’s not THE truth and it’s certainly not the WHOLE truth.

A payoff for you

There is a personal payoff to you of using other people’s perspectives; of putting the jig-saw puzzle of truth together:

The payoff will be your openness to other versions or experiences of truth, a deeper and wider understanding of people and situations, and a capacity to be compassionate and forgiving.

You’ll occur as a wise, open and forgiving leader friend, parent, or colleague.

Someone people want to be and work with.

“I swear to give my honest and complete interpretations of my experience and to be open to alternative and even contradicting interpretations.  With the help of other truth seekers, I will seek to deepen and widen my understanding without remaining fixed and immovable.”


richard branson

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