“The nobles of Persia, in the bosom of luxury and despotism, preserved a strong sense of personal gallantry and national honor. From the age of seven years they were taught to speak truth, to shoot with the bow, and to ride; and it was universally confessed, that in the two last of these arts they had made a more than common proficiency.” (Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chapter viii)
“No man quite understands his own artful dodges from the grim shadow of self-knowledge.” (Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim) The art of speaking truth, it seems, is not as easily mastered as the skills of horse-riding and archery. The difficulty in speaking the truth, simple as it may sound, is not hard to explain. Truth is generally insensitive, and often harsh; it stubbornly refuses to account for the fragile egos of those who stumble upon it. And so, particularly when ‘truth’ relates to ourselves, we avoid it speaking about it like the plague. “Truth is a torch, but a monstrously huge one; which is why we are all just intent on getting past it, our eyes blinking as we go, ever terrified of getting burnt. (Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Maxims and Reflections).
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudilkov, grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, recognized the difficulty – and greatness – of speaking truth about oneself. He writes that “if a man is able to settle his mind and reflect, and perceives that he is drowning in falsehood, and that even his service of God is rooted in falsehood, and he cries out to God and yearns to draw close to the truth, he will arouse the attribute of truth from above and draw […]