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Can we handle the truth?

The truth can be unpleasant to hear in addition to other negative consequences. This leads some people to believe, that we should deliberately omit, massage, or distort the truth. Ironically, those who suggest we cannot handle the truth, may be speaking the truth, while those who say we can, may be lying.

Implications to Other Questions

Experts and Influencers

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Experts In Philosophy

Friedrich Nietzsche    Iconic Philosopher of 19th Century
What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.
01 Jan 1895    Source

Eugene Gendlin    Philosopher, Psychotherapist
What is true is already so. Owning up to it doesn't make it worse. Not being open about it doesn't make it go away. And because it's true, it is what is there to be interacted with. Anything untrue isn't there to be lived. People can stand what is true, for they are already enduring it.
01 Aug 1982    Source

Experts In Psychology

Brad Blanton    Psychotherapist, Author
...the primary cause of most human stress, ...conflict between couples and ...both psychological and physical illness is being trapped in your mind and removed from your experience. [This happens because] we all lie like hell all the time. We're taught systematically to lie, to pretend, to maintain a pretense because we're taught that who we are is our performance. Our schools teach us to lie, our parents teach us to lie. We're all suffering from mistaken identity.
22 Jan 2008    Source

Experts In Christianity

The Catholic Church    Largest Christian Church
The eighth commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others. This moral prescription flows from the vocation of the holy people to bear witness to their God who is the truth and wills the truth. Offenses against the truth express by word or deed a refusal to commit oneself to moral uprightness: they are fundamental infidelities to God and, in this sense, they undermine the foundations of the covenant.
01 Jan 1992    Source

Albert Mohler    President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
The Christian tradition understands truth as established by God and revealed through the self-revelation of God in Scripture. Truth is eternal, fixed, and universal. Our responsibility is to order our minds in accordance with God’s revealed truth and to bear witness to this truth. We serve a Savior who identified himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and called for belief.
01 Mar 2005    Source

Experts In Entertainment

Ricky Gervais    Comedian, Creator of The Office
The truth doesn't hurt. Whatever it is, it doesn't hurt. It's better to know the truth. My mum only lied to me about one thing. She said there was a God. But that's because when you're a working class Mum Jesus is like an unpaid babysitter.
22 Apr 2009    Source

Experts In Science

Eliezer Yudkowsky    Artificial Intelligence Researcher
Mostly Disagree
I think that if there is ever a vow of honesty among rationalists, it will be restricted in scope. Normally, perhaps, you would avoid making statements that were literally false, and be ready to accept brutal honesty from anyone who first said "Crocker's Rules". Maybe you would be Radically Honest, but only with others who had taken a vow of Radical Honesty, and who understood the trust required to tell someone the truth.
10 Sep 2007    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Is self-deception a fault?

Experts In Art

Leo Tolstoy    Iconic Novelist
I know that most men — not only those considered clever, but even those who are very clever and capable of understanding most difficult scientific, mathematical, or philosophic, problems — can seldom discern even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as obliges them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have formed, perhaps with much difficulty — conclusions of which they are proud, which they have taught to others, and on which they have built their lives.
01 Jan 1896    Source

Experts In Politics

Adolf Hitler    Leader of Nazi Party
The German has no idea how much the people must be misled if the support of the masses is required.
01 Jan 1935    Source

Experts In Seduction

Heartiste    Pickup Artist
...could women handle being told by men that dinner was on them only because they think this will buy them a titty fuck? Or that all they can think about when she is blathering on about crystal therapy or her non-profit job is what she looks like naked and what it would be like to make love to her all night long? Let’s be honest. Honesty falls in the category of those values we all say we want from others, but really don’t.
07 Sep 2007    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Is honesty the best policy in dating?
   Mostly Disagree

Classic Quotes from Fiction

H. P. Lovecraft    Author
We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. |"Call of Cthulhu" narrator
01 Jan 1926    Source

Aaron Sorkin    Hollywood Screenwriter
You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Whose gonna do it? You? ... I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. ... You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. ...my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, ... you need me on that wall. | "A Few Good Men" - Colonel
17 Dec 1992    Source

Experts In Science

Robin Hanson    Economics Professor
[W]hat’s so great about truth? [Folks] commonly presume I've made a strong claim, such as that it is always better to believe and say the truth, no matter what the cost or topic. I make no such claim. ...A great many people give lip service to the truth [as] their highest allegiance. Far fewer folks, perhaps none, are actually this way. But since folks vary, there will be a furthest tail of this distribution, and those most-truth-seeking folks might appreciate relevant things to read.
12 Apr 2010    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Is self-deception a fault?
   Mostly Agree


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1 Point      TZX      16 Feb 2011      Stance on Question: Mostly Agree
If we are to make the world more like what we wish it were, we must first know what it actually is.

Also, if the truth is to be deliberately obfuscated, there is someone to do it. And to be trustworthy enough to regulate truth itself is a feat beyond the capability of almost all, if any, humans. "Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master."

Whether most humans are sane enough to act reasonably on the truth is another matter entirely.

0 Points      blacktrance      10 Feb 2011      Stance on Question: Agree
We must handle the truth, because the alternative is worse.

0 Points      Benja      14 Jun 2010      General Comment
I agree with Ricky Gervais IF you can make the truth as funny as he does.

1 Point      Tordmor      10 May 2010      Stance on Question: Neutral
To be able to handle very uncomfortable truths is nothing that comes natural to humans. It requires a great deal of willpower and mental integrity. Those are, however, traits that anybody can learn and should learn. Since the truth is what is acutally there and what will affect us those who can handle it are always better of than those who can't. I think that most people can't handle the truth comes from a bad education that encourages children to live in a phantasy world instead of accepting the real world.

0 Points      Benja      11 May 2010      General Comment
I basically agree with this. I'm not however sure whether it's about willpower. I think a lot of people develop the capability of viewing themselves abstractly in the third person. They seek to understand uncomfortable truths in the abstract, and then at their own comfortable pace reverse integrate those truths into their personal outlook on life. So it's not really about using the brute force of willpower to confront uncomfortable truths, but rather, about coming up with a comfortable mechanism to get to those truths. Thinking abstractly about oneself takes one's ego and biases out of the equation, which I think is the only long-term path you can take to handle the truth - it would be too much drain on our willpower otherwise.

1 Point      Adam Atlas      16 Apr 2010      Stance on Question: Mostly Disagree
We all say we can handle the truth, but most people, even those who don't consciously choose to avoid or deny specific uncomfortable facts, make little effort to improve their abilities to acquire new information, reject bad reasoning and false information, and synthesize new information through reason, nor would they think of reevaluating existing beliefs without any prompting or cognitive dissonance. The result is that most of us are quite vulnerable to a huge host of biases and misconceptions. Maybe most people are unaware of just how inadequate our built-in epistemology is; maybe they don't know it's possible to improve on it; maybe they don't think it's worth the effort; maybe they have some sacred beliefs that they are afraid to reconsider. None of those are characteristic of people who can handle the truth.

Can I handle the truth? I hope so. If I am wrong about something, then I want to know, so I can become right.
But maybe I'm just saying that. Maybe I too have some beliefs that I so want to be right that I couldn't handle finding out they were wrong. I don't think I've found any yet, but if I do, I hope I will be able to push through any discomfort and arrive at a more correct opinion.

0 Points      Benja      17 Apr 2010      General Comment
Your first paragraph is right on.

I think fascinating questions lurk in your second paragraph, which would be valuable to be explicit about, so they can be added to the website (one of the goals here is to link related questions to create a belief network).

One question would be about the value/benefits of truth. Yes, most people would agree about the practical benefits of truth, but those practical benefits don't require decompartmentalizing one's belief system. Maybe a question like: should a person increase the overall consistency of their belief system?

Another question might be about why philosophers/rationalists are motivated to seek truth. I'm reminded of Nietzsche who opens Beyond Good and Evil with the following:

"... WHAT really is this 'Will to Truth' in us? In fact we made a long halt at the question as to the origin of this Will—until at last we came to an absolute standstill before a yet more fundamental question. We inquired about the VALUE of this Will. Granted that we want the truth: WHY NOT RATHER untruth? And uncertainty? Even ignorance? The problem of the value of truth presented itself before us—or was it we who presented ourselves before the problem?"

0 Points      Celia      26 Jan 2012      General Comment
I had a wonderful lover once who told me that the truth hurt less than a lie. He was right and we were absolutely able to be honest without causing suffering to one another.

I think the truth does the least damage...