« AnteriorContinuar »
To speak the truth, or what seems to be truth to
us, is not a very hard thing, provided we do not care what harm we do by it, or whom we hurt by it. This kind of “truth-telling ” has been always
Such truth-tellers call themselves plain, blunt men, who say what they think, and do not care who objects to it. A man who has a good deal of self-reliance and not much sympathy, can get a reputation for courage by this way of speaking the truth. But the difficulty about it is, that truth thus spoken does not convince or convert men; it only offends them. It is apt to seem unjust; and injustice is not truth.
Some persons think that unless truth is thus hard and disagreeable it cannot be pure. Civility toward error seems to them treason to the truth. Truth to their mind is a whip with which to lash men, a club with which to knock them down. They regard it as an irritant adapted to arouse sluggish consciences.
I recollect once, at an Antislavery meeting in former days, one of the sterner sort of Abolitionists suddenly sprang to his feet, and said, “We are not doing our duty. See how quietly and peacefully the audience are listening to us. If we were doing our duty, they would be throwing brickbats at us!”
In the same way it has been a common theory in the religious world that the natural human heart is so opposed to truth that any doctrine which does not offend men must be false. They forget that the common people heard Jesus gladly, and that when the apostles first preached the gospel, three thousand persons gladly received the word, and were baptized.
To speak the truth is very necessary. More of plain, honest, kindly, affectionate truth-telling is much wanted in the world. Very few people get the truth told them which they need to hear and ought to hear. People say behind their backs what is never said to their face. A fault which they might easily correct, if they knew of it, they continue to commit all their lives, because they have no friend manly enough or kind enough to tell them of it. Therefore if you can find a truth-teller honest, direct, straightforward, and at the same time kind, sympathizing, and loving, you have found a friend worth more than diamonds. And if I had to choose between those who never tell me my faults and those who tell them too rudely, I ought infinitely rather to prefer the harsh and rough truth to the mild and civil falsehood.
Saadi, the Persian poet, tells this story : “A preacher of a harsh tone of voice fancied himself a fine-spoken man; but the croaking of a raven seemed the burden of his chant, and his voice was like the braying of an ass. In reverence for his rank, his townsmen indulged the defect, and would not distress him by remarking on it, till another preacher, who disliked him, came and said, 'I have seen you in a dream; may it prove fortunate. He replied, 'What have you seen?' He answered, 'It seemed in my vision that your croaking voice had become harmonious.' For a while the preacher bowed his head in thought, then raised it, and said : • What a fortunate vision, which has made me sensible of my weakness! I am now aware that I have an unpleasant voice, and that the people are distressed at my delivery. I will try, henceforth, to speak more softly. My friends distress me who extol my vices as though they were virtues, and regard my thorns as roses. Where is that rude enemy who will tell me all my deformities ?'”
Schiller, the German poet, tells us, in one of his couplets, much the same thing:
“My friend helps me ; my foe is also useful to me. The one shows me what I am able to be ; the other, what
I ought to be.”
And Confucius, the wise man of China, says in his “ Table Talk”: “I am a fortunate man ; if I do anything wrong, I am sure to be told of it.”
But we are not all as noble as Schiller and Confucius, and therefore we are apt to resent being charged with faults and follies of which we are not aware. Hence it is important that, while we are told the truth, we should be told it in such a way as to make us feel that it is spoken, not as cold criticism, not in a tone of superiority, not as if the speaker took pleasure in fault-finding; but as the faithful wound of a friend, the truth which is married to love, the higher generosity which is willing to encounter our resentment in order to do good to our soul.
To tell truth in this way is a high art, and comes from a noble temper. Happy is he who has such a friend, a friend able to see the good and the evil in his heart, whose love is full of insight, recognizing every good purpose, every longing after right, every conflict with wrong, and who yet can see and say what more is needed, what better things may be done. What higher compliment can be paid us than faith that we are strong enough to be told of our faults, that we are magnanimous enough to wish to know them? The world is sick because of shams, pretences, empty shows, forms which have nothing left in them but dead habit. Every age needs its prophets to rouse it from its deadly sleep in some dear, delightful falsehood. These prophets have a hard time of it; they are usually stoned, beaten, killed; they have to make their faces hard as a flint, and to speak their word whether men
will hear or forbear. They have a prophet's reward,
- hard work, plenty of opposition; but an inward conviction that they are right, and must triumph at last.
Truth is the salt of the earth. What is life good for without it? What is any man good for who does not care for truth? If you ask yourself why you respect any one, you will find it to be because there is in him an element of truth. He has real convictions. He believes something. He cares for matters outside his own selfish interests; he is moved to joy by the sight of what is just and generous; he is thrilled with indignation by the knowledge of what is wicked. He believes in the things unseen; he believes in God; he believes in some great divine power above all, through all, in all. He may be a Pagan, and call God Jupiter; he may be a Hindoo, and call him Brahm; he may be a Calvinist, and believe God an arbitrary being who makes some of his children for heaven and some for hell, - but, at all events, he believes something, and that is better than not believing. Without belief there is no earnestness, and without earnestness life is intolerable. Unless we are in earnest about something, what is the use of living ?
To believe something, even if it be mixed with error, is better than to believe nothing; for belief implies the love of truth, and this is the first step toward truth itself. There are two kinds of truth: inward truth, truth to one's self, or truthfulness;