CBA_April 13Report - page 11

April 2013 CBA REPORT
on second thought
ou consider disclosing an im-
portant truth, but reconsider
when a friend urges caution
and suggests that you not take unnec-
essary risks. You decide to postpone
the decision, although yearning for the
release authenticity would bring. You are
stalled by ambivalence.
We grow up being told to always tell
the truth. But parents inevitably send a
more nuanced message when we hear
them tell a half-truth, or tell an untruth
out of kindness, or send a false message
by remaining silent, perhaps to keep a
promised confidence.
Is it better to tell or not tell?
I am sometimes asked this ques-
tion by a partner who has strayed, and
now seeks to revive a relationship gone
adrift, or to avoid the consequences of
an angry response. I have no pat answer.
The complexity of people’s lives, always
only partially known even by one’s good
friends, suggests that giving advice
would be unwise. At best, we can ask
probing questions for the keeper of the
secret to explore. Sometimes it seems
only the teller, not the unknowing other,
would be well served by admission. Guilt
made more bearable by confession.
Yet for some, living with deception is
untenable, believing that only through
a shared honest exploration of the past,
and the hoped for future, can a genuinely
loving and committed relationship be
restored or possibly transformed. Disclo-
sure offers both parties the opportunity
to consider new choices, new directions.
The secret denies the unknowing of the
chance to consider a different path.
By Bea Larsen
Risky, either way. And not an easy
call when making the decision is a
unilateral act, but the potential impact of
truth-telling falls on many.
A case in point: A wife, who for some
time has been silently enduring her hus-
band’s sustained lack of sexual interest,
gathers the strength to ask him if he is
gay. Husband answers emphatically and
in anger that he is not, knowing that he
is. His great fear is that exposure will
cause the loss of the precious connection
he has with his young children.
I was asked for advice about this
potential disclosure, and I surprised even
myself to find that I was comfortable
of course, the truth should be
And in this case, it was
All of his worst fears came true in
living color. Wife raged. Husband was
awash in guilt and dread. The children
were confused and frightened, and the
family’s community of friends unbeliev-
ing, some falling away. Many tears and
sleepless nights. Yet, over time, with the
support of skilled professionals and loyal
friends, acceptance and accommodation
evolved as the family was reconfigured.
Loving feelings were once again ex-
pressed. The world shifted, but righted.
It became clear that this truth needed
to be told, for the damaging impact of
keeping the secret seemed too serious to
justify the lack of honest disclosure. But
“clear” is not a good choice of words, for
these decisions are often anything but
clear. Had this wife been judged to be a
vengeful, vindictive person, a different
choice might well have been made. Or
the truth telling at least postponed.
Not long ago I confided to a young
colleague that occasional moments of
self-doubt still arise and I harbor fear
of poor performance which brings on
a blue mood. Weeks later when we met
again, I watched her eyes brim with tears
as she shared her gratitude, telling me
how reassuring it was to know that such
feelings, which sometimes haunted her
days, were not hers alone, but shared
by someone who had already achieved
significant professional success. What a
gratifying moment for me, for both of us.
Disclosure begets disclosure.
On reaching adulthood and beyond,
as self-knowledge and self-acceptance
grows, most of us allow ourselves a good
measure of authenticity, a willingness to
openly share our truths. And here is an
encouraging thought: one of the true joys
of growing old is recognizing that the
need for pretense almost completely falls
away. And the discovery is made that
one is loved nonetheless, even admired,
for sharing truths that it once seemed
important to hide.
But concerns will inevitably continue
to arise when we must choose between
being a truth teller and protecting
our privacy. We strive to maintain the
delicate balance of our own well-being
and the possible harm to others. Perhaps
doing so is one important definition of
Larsen is a senior mediator at the Center for
Resolution of Disputes. She received the 2007 John
P. Kiely Professionalism Award from the CBA, and
also served as CBA president in 1986-87. Her weekly
commentaries can be viewed at
Truth Telling
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