Truth & Quakers

I've been learning about Quakers. Up until recently, my knowledge of them has been limited to the fact that I like their oatmeal and they seem like quiet, humble people. The other night, looking for some light reading, I picked up the book "A Quaker Book of Wisdom," by Robert Lawrence Smith. (He comes from a long line of Quakers -- original, not offshoot). It was a gift given long ago (can't remember by whom, probably my mother-in-law), so I picked it up on a whim.

The chapter on "Truth" has given me pause. Quakers believe in it. Strongly. Early Friends would declare to anyone within earshot "The truth is the way, and the way is the truth." The Quaker belief in truth seems Kantian to me. Kant believed that in matters of truth, one must never equivocate. Truth is absolute. We studied Kant in my philosophy class, and I thought he was too extreme. How can one always tell the truth? Our class discussed this question. The teacher asked, "Are white lies okay?" My thought was: How can one live in society and not equivocate just a little?

Much of the dialogue in our class discussion centered around intimate interpersonal relationships; those between partners. Most of the husbands and boyfriends candidly admitted to telling their girlfriend/wife the new outfit/hairstyle "Looks great," or "No, that outfit doesn't make you look fat."

Wouldn't life be more simple if we were to always tell the truth? A strategy I've employed recently is to keep quiet as opposed to saying something I don't mean but at the same time don't wish to do harm. What good does it do when someone asks you how you liked the church's chorale performance when you thought it was spotty at best, downright painful in places? I have to admit, in that case, I agreed when asked, that "Yes, it was very nice," but I left it at that and wasn't effusive. How does one draw the line between truth telling and wearing your critic's hat everywhere you go?

My brother-in-law has very few internal filters when it comes to the truth. If you want his opinion, you'd better be ready for the answer because he's going to give it to you. His friends and family have learned to expect this from him. I envy that. Husband also will tell me if something I've brought home doesn't quite work. He's honest to a fault. (Sigh.)

So do we always want to hear the truth? I don't think so. When we ask our partner how we look, don't we really want them to tell us, "You look fabulous"? When we ask for the opinions of others, aren't we looking for validation? How do we live in community together if we don't shade the truth a little for those we love? Do we really tell the host or hostess that dinner was awful?

The Quakers believe that truth is the key to everything; it is only when we can tell ourselves the truth that we really know the answers in life. Shakespeare's quote from "Hamlet" says it all: "To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."

I end this post with just as many questions as when I started. The truth is so simple yet complicated (because of the human factor). If you take away the human factor (which you can't), the emotional aspect, then it becomes just science. Science demands truth; people, maybe not so much.