Tag Archives: Truth

The true stories we tell that aren’t

The true stories we tell that aren’t

We’d like to think that what makes a story live on is its truth; that some fantastical, magical, unbelievable, hilarious, absurd, disgusting, beautiful, awesome narrative actually happened. This is why film-makers are keen to attach “Based on true events” at the start of a film. But how do we know that any story we hear and retell is actually true?

A funny but not entirely true story

One night several colleagues and I were having dinner and I told a very funny story about a very funny senior executive, let’s call him Bob, who was our guest of honor at the dinner table.

In the story, Bob is at home having a birthday party for his five-year old. The place is overrun with little kids and supervising parents. Out in the patio, one parent is feeding pigeons and several kids are of course fascinated with the flapping wings and birds jockeying for position.

Our hero, a renowned mischief-maker, takes out a BB gun and decides to surprise the children by getting the birds to fly off in a group.

Our hero takes aim, fires, and hits a hapless bird that flies in front of his target.

Now, instead of surprise and wonder on little faces at all the pigeons taking flight, there are kids wailing at the sight of a mortally wounded pigeon, beating about bleeding all over the front patio in death throes.

Recounting his wife accusing him of being an asshole, little kids calling him a murderer, and parents leaving with their kids saying “How could you?”,  “What were you thinking?”, and his feeble defense of “That’s never happened before. I shoot them all the time,” guarantees a good laugh.

The new employees at our dinner table enjoyed the story as several of us competed to retell it. We all had fun, but what was interesting was how different our story was from the “true” story Bob offered after we had finished. He had listened and laughed and said he loved the story but he had to correct a few things.

He then went on to give his first-hand account which was significantly different from the story we had just told. It was still funny, but not so much, and what was clear to us is that a story that helped make him a company character didn’t really happen. People, myself included, were recounting their memory of the story they heard someone else tell, not the incident itself, and that’s an important distinction.

Memory is reconstruction

Perhaps you have experienced this phenomenon yourself. Maybe at a family dinner, a brother or sister will disagree with a major aspect of your recounting of how something or someone was. Your telling of it is different.

The point is that what you remember about your past is not factually accurate in every detail and that what you remember is more the story about an incident and less the incident itself. This is especially true about stories about past events absent you. You are recounting a story, and the good stories are almost never 100%

You are recounting a story, and the good stories are almost never 100% true, are they?

That fish you caught wasn’t quite that big, you didn’t party quite that much, and your cheeky remark wasn’t actually said loud enough to be heard.

Often we tell a grander version of our past because it’s funnier or because it’s become tradition to tell it that way, and once you realize this you’ll see that people are more interested in telling stories than recounting history; you’ll see a possible past reality quite different from the stories we tell each other.

Photo by Adam Birkett


Always acknowledge two things about the truth

We say the truth is important and will set us free, but my discovery above—about a story I told as true but wasn’t—plus the rise of fake news should teach us two things:

  1. Finding the truth is hard work. Whether it’s Trump’s collusion, or how many drinks you had at the last office party, finding and separating facts from opinion is hard work.
  2. and you’re unwilling to do it. No shame there. It’s a lot of work and you’re not a scientist, researcher or detective and you have other things you’d prefer doing, like watching Suits, or Game of Thrones.

Always remember three things about a story

But once you acknowledge you’re unwilling to do the hard work of finding the truth then it’s easy to remember three important things about the stories we pass around every day.

1.Don’t think of them as true

It’s not to say they’re lies, but there is quite the continuum from complete falsehood to the whole truth and nothing but, and as I’ve said before—no single person can give more than their honest perspective, and even that is colored by unconscious bias.

2.It’s being passed along for a reason

Person’s accepting and transmitting stories have an agenda; they get some payoff: they were the first to know, they get to be a trusted source of what’s really going on, “You heard it from me.” They get to be right about some earlier allegation, suspicion, or belief.

3. Something is at stake

Many stories are trivial and inconsequential, but for some, it matters a great deal whether you accept and retell, or reject and suppress. Someone’s image, reputation, freedom or quality of life may be at stake.  In my story above, what was at stake was the image of a very senior executive as a funny guy who often got himself into trouble.  I could say I knew him and worked with him, and for some reason, that was important to me.  Lucky for me there were other stories, stories he corroborated.

It’s OK to tell stories that embellish

We often do it without conscious intent. We get to be right, we varnish a hero, and we get to feel good, angry, sad about the past or future.

Some of us don’t so much embellish stories about ourselves, as darken them to present ourselves in a bad light. Like masochists that self-flagellate with negative interpretations about stuff that happened or will happen. “We’re undeserving losers, failures that will never amount to anything and we’ll never be rich and successful or find true love.”

Some of us are true embellishers, putting a positive spin on everything that happened or will happen to us. “We’re winners! Everything has always and will always work out for us. Everybody loves us because we’re always right and we know how to make money. Plus we are soooo good looking it hurts.”

Both types can be hard to take but do you notice that their lives seem to unfold according to the stories they tell?

Perhaps the lesson is that while the truth in stories is important, what’s more important is the world they create for the people who tell them.




Forgiveness lessons from a dog

Forgiveness lessons from a dog

The other day I was getting ready to take my dog Jazzy for a walk. Now, this isn’t a daily routine although I know that it’s best for a dog to have one. It’s just that I don’t have a lot of open spaces I can easily take him to, so I take him maybeContinue Reading

A better alternative to facts

A better alternative to facts

Fact-checking is hard work. It’s a lot easier to pass along that email about the Australian PM threatening Muslims to integrate or get out of the country, or about an aircraft carrier attempting to bully a lighthouse into changing course, than to check if it’s true. People often pass along stories that reinforce their worstContinue Reading

Trust but verify

Trust but verify

Most people spread lies without ambitious agendas. They often parrot other people’s talking points and opinions because it makes it sound like somebody’s home. They’ve never thought about distinctions of truth, belief, fact, opinion, assessment, gossip, and allegation, or why they matter. They’re not weak or stupid, just lazy and indoctrinated. Not surprising. Maybe weContinue Reading

The lie about lies

The lie about lies

We are indoctrinated into thinking lies, all lies are bad, and creates an unnecessary internal conflict, because lie-telling plays an important role in creativity, and compassionContinue Reading

Fool me … Shame on who?

Fool me … Shame on who?

There’s a famous quote that goes, Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. It’s attributed to a Randall Terry but we’ll never forget—and always be grateful for—George W’s mangling of it. (Video below.) It’s an important quote because it says that individual responsibility for the truth is as much theContinue Reading

My scientists smarter than yours

My scientists smarter than yours

Not two weeks ago, I was floating on a noodle, beer in hand, life and conversation good, when the topic of climate change came up and suddenly the world seemed full of short-sighted ignorant people. It started when a new friend seemed untroubled that 2016 is on track to be the hottest year on record,Continue Reading

The half-life of a grievance

The half-life of a grievance

Every now and then, an old grievance comes to mind. There’s one about a guy who accused me of something I didn’t do, and whenever his name comes up, the grievance is right behind. Sometimes from out of nowhere the grievance enter’s the spotlight of my mind and a variation of the incident replays —oneContinue Reading

Trump’s success formula and what we can emulate

Trump’s success formula and what we can emulate

We all know the risk of being insensitive, rude and politically incorrect. We’ve felt the sting of crossing the line enough times to know it’s not socially acceptable. How then to explain Donald Trump, who attributes his success to crossing that line? What is the Trump winning formula and is there anything about him toContinue Reading

Thinking now old-fashioned

Thinking now old-fashioned

The truth, we’ve been told, is out there somewhere and we can thank science for showing us how to arrive at truth, reject untruth, and most importantly to dethrone old truth’s that no longer apply. This is good because the truth is much bigger and more unknowable than we give it credit for; that’s whyContinue Reading

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 theContinue Reading

What is it all about?

Got this in my inbox the other day: Peter, if it was just about surviving, getting by, and keeping things the way they are, then how would you explain imagination? If it was just about sacrifice, selflessness, and altruism, then how would you explain desire? And if it was just about thinking, reflection, and spiritualContinue Reading

A Better Alternative to Assuming and Opining

Knowing the danger of opinions and having a practical alternative to them is essential to making good business and political decisions and for the proper care of your relationships. In my last post I gave a very vivid example of the negative consequences of making assumptions. Don Miguel Ruiz in the Four Agreement was rightContinue Reading

“Look at him, he’s laughing at you!”

Many years ago my girlfriend and I were walking through an open field at the Toronto zoo.  It was late afternoon on a perfect day; blue sky, warm weather, sounds of birds and people in the distance.  We had already been there for a few hours, and all was right with the world.  As weContinue Reading

In defense of Gossiping

In my last post I wrote about the Consequences of Gossiping and like most things in life there are many shades of grey.  Below there is an amusing story about gossiping that suggests that while you are well advised to remove yourself from gossip it is not wise to be completely oblivious to it. Here’sContinue Reading

When You Can’t Trust a Trapeze Artist

A few weeks ago, I was at a birthday party and I introduced myself to some friends of the birthday girl. They didn’t look alike at all and I was genuinely surprised when they insisted they were siblings. They all had really great energy and I engaged in a very lively and I thought genuineContinue Reading

Why can’t you find THE answers?

I was reading a fellow blogger’s post today, and in it he said his purpose was to help you find THE (my caps) answers to certain life questions.   This reminded me of some of my earlier posts on truth where I talk about the concept of truth and that perhaps Jack Nicholson’s character wasContinue Reading

Oceans of Truth

Most people are taught that the truth is some final answer that can be fully known, comprehended and owned, that it is finite and describable. Well, it is so NO-OOTT, as the valley girls would say. There are two major aspects to the truth that when acknowledged could make this world a very different place. Continue Reading

Breakthrough in being with another’s POV

The other day I was having a drink with a good friend of mine and he began to relate his impression of one of the political candidates in the upcoming election.  To say that his view was completely at odds with my own is to put it mildly.  What was really interesting though was thatContinue Reading

Humility Producers

I can’t believe I did that! I mean really; what could have I been thinking?  I’m too embarrassed to describe the event, but I will say that it was inappropriate. And to top it off, it was with a very put together professional who could be of immense value in my professional growth and aContinue Reading

Who is this person I’m in a relationship with?

I’m a big fan of the movie Crash because it did an excellent job of illustrating this point:the greatest good and the greatest evil lies within us all. What got me writing about it now is a couple that I know that is going through a rocky period. I’m not going to describe details …Continue Reading

Are there no lies then?

This question only makes sense as a follow up to my last two posts so if you haven’t read them please do. The answer to the question is there most definitely are, and you can consider a more powerful relationship to lies that is less destructive to relationships and more supportive of your being aContinue Reading

Are beliefs true?

Are beliefs true?

Because you believe something does it make it true? There was a time when educated people believed the world was flat, ships could not be made of metal, and the earth was the center of the solar system. The answer to “Are beliefs true?” seems obvious, yet is a very deep question. How you answer depends onContinue Reading

What is your concept of truth?

What is your concept of truth?

What is your concept of the truth, and why is it germane to the practice of your life? Well think about it.  If you live your life according to things that you believe are true, and they’re only partially true or flat out wrong, what do you think the impact would be on your life?Continue Reading

Obama’s “A more perfect union”

If you haven’t seen or read Barack Obama’s speech on race on March 18th, 2008 I highly recommend that you do (link below). Regardless of your political persuasion, I think you will agree that it was at least different from what we’ve come to expect from politicians. Now the word different does not begin toContinue Reading

What is this blog about?

So I begin my blog.  Can’t tell you the degree of professional procrastination that has this date be Mar 11th 2008 vs. Mar 11th 2005. Oh, what would I write about it? What if I make mistakes? What will people say about my mistakes?   And my grammar sucks. What happens when I change myContinue Reading