"Tell the truth without blame or judgment."
According to many indigenous societies, summer is the season of the Visionary. The archetype of the Visionary teaches us how to make the truth visible through skilled means. The principle guiding this practice is "tell the truth without blame or judgment."
Effective communication opens eyes and ears without provoking defensiveness. Many of us know how to share our point of view; fewer track the effect of their words or take responsibility for their impact on others.
While authenticity is a worthy goal, we must learn to share our point of view with responsibility and empathy if we hope to create positive change. Self-righteousness rarely accomplishes anything more than alienating others. Estranging others in the name of setting them straight reveals the agenda of the ego rather than the wisdom of the seer.
A current exemplar of visionary truth telling is Pope Francis. He uses candid and compassionate truth telling to advocate for social justice, environmentalism and systemic reform. Consider Francis' recent comments on the destruction of the global environment. The Pope does not point fingers. He recognizes we are all complicit in the headlong, short-term, me-first race for wealth and power: "Once capital becomes an idol and guides people's decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home."
Society has become confused and lost its way the Pope suggests. Rather than assign blame, he bears witness to the consequences of our choices. He encourages us to adjust our values and pursue social, economic and environmental sustainability.
Francis is not anti-business as some suggest. Rather, he is an advocate for an inclusive economic model that supports the interests of the whole over the interests of the few. Francis recognizes great economic inequality as the breeding ground for crime, radicalization and violence. Recent history in our cities, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and South America suggests as much. "Business is a noble vocation," Francis explains, "directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good."
Pope Francis also recognizes the mistake implicit in fragmentation and polarization. He seeks a more inclusive approach to solving social problems, recognizing them for what they are - symptoms of the decline of ethical and spiritual values.
Francis models charity. He reaches out to disenfranchised communities with a simple, revolutionary message: no matter your gender, sexual orientation, or belief system you are welcome and respected:
"Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?" If we dare to really see people, in their dignity and humanity, then we shall discover the right words to say."
Pope Francis has the vision to know reconciliation is only possible when the products of fear - blame and judgment - are retired as an agency of division.
The Three Protocols
The ability to tell the truth without blame and judgment depends on three observances: right timing, right placement and right content. This is like building a sandwich - right timing and right placement are the slices of bread. Right content is the filling in the middle.
Right timing is the ability to recognize when to deliver a message, point of view, or piece of feedback. All too often the truth is sabotaged by our inability to discern two things: when we are triggered and reactive; and when others are open and receptive to what we have to share. If we are reactive, chances are the tone and velocity of our words will cause the message to land with a thud. When others are too busy to listen, we will also fail to connect. Right timing requires patience to discern the best moment for conversation.
Right placement, or situation awareness, is the second component. Knowing what is going on around us helps determine when the conditions support truth telling. This is a practice associated with spaciousness. For example, trying to provide feedback in an open office environment where there is no privacy will likely fail. As well, failure to understand when circumstances demand action over conversation can lead to rushing the truth. This often results in expediency, lack of context setting and misunderstandings. Defensiveness and hurt feelings may be incurred as a result.
Right content includes being clear about what we want to say, our intention for saying it, and the tone and manner in which we deliver the message. Reflection is required to bring clarity to truth telling. It also supports our ability to take responsibility for what we are feeling, seeing and wanting from others and ourselves that requires change.
Using "I" statements is far more productive than finger pointing. The University of Tennessee Family & Consumer Sciences proposes a three-part model:
- I feel... (Insert feeling word)
- When... (tell what caused the feeling)
- I would like... (tell what you want to happen instead).
Giving voice to what we see internally and externally is the Visionary's gift. When done with modesty and skill, truth telling has the power to transform our lives, perceptions and relationships.
When vanity and unskilled means are at play, however, our version of the truth can be destructive. As Pope Francis advised a group of 500 young people recently: "Make the future with beauty, with goodness and truth. Do you understand? This is the challenge: your challenge...you can do it: you have the power to do so. If you do not, it is because of laziness. ... I wanted to tell you: Have courage. Go forward. Make noise."
Make noise indeed.