Do you prefer honesty—or would you rather hear something that makes you feel good?
It’s pleasant to hear things that feel positive, but that feeling is fleeting, and potentially devastating, when we have heard a lie.
In a recent column devoted to a comedian who passed away two decades ago, I encountered a joke that probes this problem. Henny Youngman poses a dilemma, and solves it with the worldly solution. In the following one-line joke, he proposes an alternative to unwelcome news.
When I told my doctor I couldn’t afford an operation, he offered to touch up my X-rays.
If only it were so simple to change bad news to good. The truth may not always be welcome, but it is nearly always preferable to believing a lie. Sadly, avoiding discomfort by telling people what they want to hear, has become a modern plague.
Well, “modern” isn’t the best word. This dishonesty has been around for a long time, and it will persist until the Parousia. The Apostle Paul described it to a younger pastor by saying, “having itching ears [people] will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth . . .” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
That’s one reason that certain religious messages are more popular than others. They “promise” you that if you follow their teachings, there are only good times ahead.
An Honest Diagnosis
In contrast to these lies, the truth admits life is not always perfect. The truth acknowledges that doing right is often more difficult than going with the flow.
But trading the truth for the lie is dangerous. One can be approaching a sheer precipice, requiring swift avoidance. But if we heed the voices saying “all is well,” we may blindly step into oblivion.
C.S. Lewis described the way that Satan would like to have us deluded about our real condition and circumstances. In the Screwtape Letters, a senior demon offers evil counsel to a junior devil assigned as a tempter.
How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition.
If you are one of the minority who welcome the truth, however challenging, I commend you.
If you find yourself preferring those who encourage you to be comfortable and complacent about who you are and how things presently are, I encourage you to listen to other (more honest) voices. Voices that encourage you to become a better woman or man today than you were yesterday. Voices that call you to the true path God is laying out before you.
In the long run, altered x-rays will never help us to recover from the illnesses of body, mind and soul that assail us. Only the Truth is able to set us free.