I’m going to hold a vision of it there this week, visualizing one contestant knowing the truth, and the other two knowing just enough to sound convincing, as I wrestle with the thoughts and feelings running around in my head and in my heart. Forgive me as I muddle through this.
Two heartbreaking stories dominated the news this week; the discovery of the bodies of the 215 indigenous children from the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia and the horrific murders of four members of the Afzaal family from London, ON. I have read news stories, listened to interviews and seen social media posts about both events. Almost every single one of them shows the heartache of Canadians as we grapple with the fact that we can no longer pretend to be a nation where racism, and exclusion, and covering our eyes does not exist. We have solid evidence to suggest otherwise.
It shouldn’t have surprised me that as I pondered all of this, I should come across this quote:
‘There are only two mistakes one can make on the road to truth. Not going all the way; and not starting.’ ~ Budda
Where to start? I believe our little individual lives are pretty good microcosms of the bigger world, so I want to talk about how we truth-tell in our own lives. I’ll only speak from my own experience. I like to think I am a truth teller. I don’t lie. I try to be honest with myself and about myself. I believe other people when they tell me things. I try to find the good in others.
There are times when I hear a bit of information, often a truthful bit, and I fill in the blanks to create a complete story, with what makes sense to me based on general knowledge, on my personal history, perhaps on my insecurities, and perhaps on what makes me feel good about myself. It’s a dangerous game to play. Budda would tell me I am not going all the way. My made-up story, no matter how logical and realistic, is not the full truth. If I want to know the truth, I need to be willing to ask about, and listen to the whole truth. Not just listen to a snippet and then fill in the rest with what I declare to be the truth.
We’ve all had conversations with friends and family where someone has innocently said something, or has said something based on a larger discussion we may not have been part of. On good days, this comment lands exactly where it should. It’s a comment, a moment in time. It is not a reflection of the persons complete belief system. It does not reveal their motive for how they live life. It does not give a full picture of anything. The emotional impact of it ends at the end of the sentence.
But on other days….
On other days, such a simple sentence as this can set off a chain of thoughts, usually preceded by feelings. Perhaps the thoughts sound like this?
WOW! I had no idea they thought that. I’ll bet that means they also think this. I had no idea. I thought we were close. And on and on and on it goes. We fill in the blanks with plausible thoughts. The only problem is, we are forgetting to go all the way on finding the truth. Our poor little human brains, in an attempt to organize data, have the capacity to do some mighty big truth stretching.
The situation with Residential Schools in Canada is so complex. We have all heard parts of the truth. This past week we heard a very disturbing, unsettling, difficult-to-accept bit of truth. The reality is, this bit of truth was not just uncovered this past week. There have been other such gravesites, there have been other such stories of these atrocities, and yet we have not been willing, or perhaps we have not known how to gain access, or perhaps we have been afraid to face head-on, the whole truth. Our Indigenous Peoples have spoken about this for decades. It is very, very difficult to sit quietly and listen to these stories; to not hear only a snippet and then fill in the rest with what might make some sense based on our own experience of life.
In London, Ontario, a young boy is recovering from his physical wounds suffered when his family was run down by a young man. He will never recover from the loss of his family. My heart is broken for him. I don’t know his truth. I can fill it in based on my life experience of losing a parent, but I actually have no idea in the world what his life has been or will become. Nor do I know the truth about the person who has been charged. Nor do I know the truth about what it must be like to be a visible minority in Canada.
To tell the truth we must know the truth. It’s kind of like that game show. There are three panelists, but only one has the complete truth. This is the only one who can stand up and say, ‘This is the truth’. The others may sound real, they may know snippets of the truth, they may sound convincing. But they do not have the whole truth about the profession they profess to be in, since they have not experienced it.
I wish I had some answers. I do not. Here is what I know to be true. In my own small world, I can practice being open to the truth. I can be willing to listen to the truth. I can notice when I’m making up stories by filling in the blanks around bits of truth, I can stop, back up, and then go all the way in my truth-finding.
In my province, I can do the same. I can practice being open to the truth. I can be willing to listen to the truth. I can notice when I’m making up stories by filling in the blanks around bits of truth, I can stop, back up, and then go all the way in my truth-finding.
In my country I can do the same. I can stop pretending ‘that’s not who we are’. What we have seen these past weeks is who we collectively are. We have seen incredible shows of support in the wake of these two tragedies. People lined the streets in London to pay their respects. Displays of children’s shoes have filled the steps of government buildings. We are not all racists, nor are we all exclusionary, nor do we all cover our eyes from the truth. But as a nation, these things exist. It is not who we want to be, it is not who we can be, it is not who I strive to be.
There is a former Residential School not more than ten minutes from where I live. I plan to go there this week. There is a little gravesite there. During a flood, years ago, the river rose and cut into the banks of the river exposing the remains of children who had been buried there. Thirty-four bodies were recovered (of the original 73 children who died while attending the school) and were laid to rest in the little gravesite. I’d like to leave a little pair of shoes there. I hope they will be received in the way they are intended; I acknowledge what has happened, I am willing to face the truth, and my heart is aching. It’s a start.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What is the truth?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has particular expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to start on the journey of truth.