How would you feel if you knew you couldn’t hide the truth about anything? What if you knew that the complete truth would always come out — about your actions, words and even thoughts? How would it change the way you live your life?
I’ve been reading a fascinating book called “Consciousness Beyond Life,” about so-called “near-death experiences.” One of the most commonly reported events from a near-death experience is a life review in which a person relives everything he’s ever done or thought. Here’s how Dr. Pim van Lommel explains what he found in the patients he interviewed:
“People know their own and others’ past thoughts and feelings because they have a connection with the memories and emotions of others. During the life review people experience the effects of their thoughts, words and actions on other people when they originally occurred, and they also get a sense of whether love has been shared or withheld. Although this can be extremely confrontational, nobody feels judged: people understand how they lived their life and how this affected others.”
I didn’t like the way that struck me, because I quickly realized that there were times when I haven’t been as honest with others as I’d like to be — especially about feelings and thoughts. So I wondered how I would feel if that were true. What would I feel if everyone one day knew every little thought or feeling I’d had about them? How would I feel if every little “white lie” I’ve told were exposed? How would I feel if there were no secrets about my thoughts or feelings?
The thought reminded me of a 1996 science fiction novel called “The Truth Machine.” The premise is that a perfect lie detector is invented — the truth machine. It’s first used for criminal justice, then for job interviews and then finally everyone is wearing them everywhere. All of a sudden, it’s not possible to lie, because lies are instantly exposed.
I like to think of myself as an honest person, but the thought of that much honesty scares me. It actually seems as though it would be a better world in the long run — after we got past the initial shock of knowing what everyone really thought of us. Even though I intellectually think it would be good — and even though I piously try to stand for the virtue of truth with others — it still terrifies me.
And as I think about how it makes me feel, I realize with an uncomfortable shock that I feel this way because I don’t feel as though I’m honest enough. It makes me feel terrified to think about a world in which anybody could know the truth about me — especially of my thoughts and feelings.
It reminded me of a song called “No One Will Have a Secret” by a Christian group called the 2nd Chapter of Acts from about 30 years ago. It’s talking about the days after the end of this world when we know God:
No one will have any secret
No one will tell any lie
Things that were done in hiding
Are gonna reach to the highest sky
So imagine a world like that for a moment, whether you want to see it as a science fiction future or a time in the afterlife. Imagine a place where everyone knows everything you’ve ever done or said or thought or felt. Would it be a relief? Or does the thought of people knowing that much truth about you make you queasy?
However it made you feel, what does it tell you about the way you’re living life right now? Are you being honest with those you love? Are you being open enough with your thoughts and feelings? Or do your hidden thoughts and feelings mean that you’re living a lie?
I don’t like the way it makes me feel. If she’s going to know that I felt that — and didn’t tell her — what will she think of me? If he’s going to find out that I wasn’t completely honest about that other situation, will I feel ashamed of myself?
When I do this as a thought experiment, it doesn’t uncover serious dishonesty in my life, but it makes me uncomfortable, because it forces me to realize that I do shade the truth a bit in my favor at times and I do hide things that aren’t quite favorable to me and I do avoid telling people things that sometimes need to be said. I realize we all do those things at times, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling that maybe I might give myself a bit too much credit for being as honest as I’d like.
So what if people knew your real thoughts and feelings? Would it change the situations of your life? Would you have to confess to somebody that you’re living a lie? Would you have to confess something to a spouse or a boss or a friend? Would you have to make changes to your life if people knew the truth?
I’m glad there’s not a truth machine, but the fact that I’m relieved it doesn’t exist tells me more than I’d really like to know about whether I’ve been as truthful with others as I sometimes think I am. How about you?