(author of Conversations with God)
Editor's note: The following entry was featured on NDW's blog on Tuesday 24 June 2008. That blog is no longer available. Luckily I saved a copy on my hard drive. So here it is in all it's glory.
Imagine this. God comes down to Earth for one minute - one blessed 60-second moment - and announces to the world the solution to all of its problems and the way for every soul to experience heaven-on-earth and eternal salvation. God reveals this solution and this way with one sentence. What do you suppose that sentence would be?
"Believe in Me"?
"Believe in My Son"?
"Stop the killing"?
Okay then, what? Whaaat?
Here it is. Are you ready?
"Tell the truth."
That's it. That's all there is to it. Just tell the truth, and everything is solved. Not overnight. Not in the next instant. But fast. Very fast. Because very soon after everyone starts telling the truth, the cause of the problems goes away.
We live in a society based on secrecy. Think about it. Virtually every aspect of life as we have constructed it is based on secrecy. The cultural myth is that what we don't know makes everything work, not what we do know.
That's certainly true of our political myth. If governments around the world (our's included) ever told the people everything that government knows on every subject, governments would have to change. If governments ever gave people the real reasons behind everything governments do, what governments do would be altered forever.
Wars, for instance, would practically vanish from the human experience, because most human beings would never agree to go to war for the real reasons governments declare war. Governments know this, so governments give us trumped up reasons, reasons they hope most of the people will agree with.
Taxes would also virtually vanish, because most human beings would never agree to be taxed for the real reasons governments raise money. Governments know this, so governments give us trumped up reasons, reasons they hope most of the people will agree with.
Our economic myth, likewise, is based on secrets. Can you imagine what would happen if factory foremen and office supervisors handed out sheets of paper every month to all employees with all the company's salaries (including those of every executive) on them? Can you imagine what would happen to world prices if corporations were required to place on their price tags the actual cost, to them, of providing those goods and services? Do you think such a system of complete visibility would allow our economic system to survive in its present form? Of course not. Because once the truth is told, everything changes.
Even our theological systems fall into the same category. We are told that we do not have the answers, and cannot find the answers, to life's most challenging questions on our own. These are "mysteries," which only religion can solve. And each religion declares that it has the "right" answers, and everyone else has the "wrong" ones. Yet even religions don't tell us everything they "know." Much is kept hidden, away from the mass of the people who, it is said, cannot and would not possibly understand. Incantations are offered in ancient tongues that only the chief priests understand. Rituals are shrouded in secret. Admission to the temples of some religions is forbidden to the general public and, even within the religious family, open only to a select few.
But secrets aren't limited to our society's institutions. Our society itself is based on secrets. Families keep secrets tenanciously, and whole familial environments are often built on secrets. The family alcoholic, the father who abuses his wife and children, the aunt who suffers from kleptomania, the brother-in-law in jail -- all are kept secret, not just from the people outside the family, but very often from other family members themselves.
"What you don't know won't hurt you" is such a powerful myth that it has become more socially unacceptable to tell the truth than to hide it.
None of this would really matter very much, one supposes, were it not for the fact that wars have been started because of state secrets. Children have endured years of abuse because of family secrets. The rich have gotten richer, and the poor have gotten poorer because of economic secrets. And people have gone to their death cringing in fear of God because of religious and spiritual secrets.
Lives have been ruined because of secrets, and yet humans will not tell the truth, because the real slogan is, "What you don't know won't hurt me."
As long as we're afraid of being hurt by the truth, we're going to lie. And, while we don't like it, we'll tolerate an entire society built on lies.
Yet it is society's refusal to become truthful that causes most of the pain society is forced to endure, and the vicious circle is complete. We sidestep the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in an effort to avoid pain - and we cause pain in the process.
There is a way out of this mess. Conversations with God - Book 2 calls for a new societal standard, captured in a word: Visibility.
I spoken about this before, in lectures across this country, in articles and interviews around the world, and in this very column. I'll keep preaching the virtues of visibility as long as I live, because I know now that it is the only way to live.
Conversations with God - Book 2 says that there are five levels of truth-telling.
First, you tell the truth to yourself about yourself. Then you tell the truth to yourself about another. At the third level, you tell the truth about yourself to another. Then you tell the truth about another to that other. And finally, you learn to tell the truth to everyone about everything.
The first level of truth-telling was the hardest for me. There was a part of me which did not want to hear the truth about myself - least of all from myself. I knew that if I admitted to myself what many others had been telling me most of my life, I would no longer have anywhere to run.
As long as I could avoid admitting to myself that the criticisms and observations of others about me were simply not true, I could go on. Yet how could I continue if I once acknowledged within my own heart and mind that I was behaving exactly as others said I was behaving, doing exactly what others said I was doing, and very much the person that others told me I was?
Who cares if I was wearing the Emperor's New Clothes? I much preferred parading around in my illusions of how I presented myself to the world to any inner acknowledgment that the most often loving and well-meaning observations of others might be right on the money.
So yes, level one was the most difficult for me. Yet once I mastered it my whole life changed. I found that most of the pain of my life had been caused by holding on to my illusions, not by letting them go. When my false image of myself began to drop away, I could start directing all the energy I had been using to hold it together toward other, much more useful, pursuits.
Level four was the next biggest challenge. The real work was not in finding the courage the speak my truth about others to those others, but in creating a way to do that sensitively, with love and understanding, gentleness and compassion. I had to learn to speak my truth, yes, but to speak it softly.
This continues to be a challenge for me, especially when I am being critical of society in general, or "those others" as a group. My words far too often come out harsh and cold, justified and righteous. Oh, my, can I become dangerous if I believe I have "right" on my side - whatever that is. But I'm working on it. I'm seeking to develop the skill of telling my truth without clobbering my listeners. I want them to be able to hear me.
So how about you? Do you want to help change the world? You can start by deciding to tell the truth always, to everyone, in every moment and about every matter.
If you run a business, tell your employees exactly what everyone else is making.
Tell your customers exactly what your products or sevices cost you to provide. If you're in a relationship, tell your significant other everything you think they need to know in order for them to be holding five cards, too. If you're in government, tell your constituents the real reasons behind all of your agency's decisions. If you're in education, teach your students all there is to know, in an age-appropriate way, on the subjects you're exploring. If you're a rabbi or a minister, priest or monk, tell the whole truth about God, open up your rituals, throw wide the doors of your temples. Let the sun shine in.
Dare you, dare you, double dare you...