Imagine that you’re having a nice cup of coffee with a friend when he starts up a conversation about the horrible conditions for chickens at poultry farms.
He fills you in on the details of how they spend their entire life in windowless and packed farmhouses without ever seeing the sun or feeling the wind rustling through their feathers. He tells you how they’re fed antibiotics that make them grow so fast that their legs can’t support them and how their beaks are cut with hot blades and without any painkillers.
As you are listening to your friend while recalling the five buckets of KFC chicken you devoured during the past week, you decide that you are not in the mood to address this topic. Instead, you suggest that the chickens join a union or organize a strike for better working conditions.
Unfortunately, your persistent bugger of a friend is not discouraged and turns to increasing your awareness of the cruel methods used to slaughter and dehorn cows.
All this is news to you and it forms a grey cloud over the past month’s otherwise enjoyable visits to your local steakhouse. Before your mind has formed an educated opinion on the matter, your ego consequently begins to line up defensive arguments to justify your recent contributions to animal cruelty.
In an instant, you mouth has picked up on it and you are lost in a heated debate uttering things like “Not all poultry farmers treat their chickens this way” and “If it was that bad the government would take action” and finally “Nature is brutal. Even in the wild the prey will often suffer, when the predator makes a kill.”
The debate goes on for a while until you run out of creative arguments and this is the moment you begin building a case for the fact that you have of course always been aware of the outrageous behavior of the food industry—and that you just have to pick your battles in this world of wrong doing!
Does the above situation seem familiar to you in any way? Has anyone ever tried to tell you something new which you believed to be the truth deep down, but which somehow hurt your pride or made you look bad in the eyes of others and yourself?
Perhaps a friend told you that your favorite football player is doping himself. Perhaps your mom told you about the dangers of driving under influence the day after you drove your friends home blazed beyond recognition. Perhaps your son’s schoolteacher told you he is bullying other kids at school. Perhaps your wife told you watching TV for five hours each day is not improving your self-confidence, your relationship with your family or your health. Perhaps whatever someone told you was directed at you or perhaps it was a statement about something in general.
But if you knew or believed that it was the truth, what did you do? Did you immediately admit to your surprise of hearing it and did you confess to how it made you look bad? If so, you did better than I have on many occasions.
German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, once said that all truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
Surely, Schopenhauer’s view on our reaction to truth is not bursting with optimism, but I don’t find it very hard to relate to. In fact, I’m quite sure that most of us can easily relate to that defensive state of mind.
But what happened to that fourth stage, where we objectively and openly evaluate the truth? Maybe it’s such a rarity because we prefer the comfortable surroundings of little lies.
Some studies show that the average person tells four lies a day. I wonder how many lies the average person tells him or herself. I’ll try to keep that in mind next time someone tells me a truth that triggers my inner attorney.
And before you use Schopenhauer’s quote as ammunition against the next person to ridicule and oppose your arguments, stop and reconsider—maybe you were not speaking the truth.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta