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A Question of Truth

posted by Susan Dominikovich on , , ,

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Paul and I stayed up into the wee hours last night discussing truth and our responsibility with it.  The question that plagued us was, is it ever okay to let go of the truth, or by doing so, are we actually committing an un-truth?

I am not writing here about being asked a question and then wondering if we should or should not tell the truth.  The answer there is ALWAYS tell the truth.  But sometimes we know a truth and we aren’t asked for it.  Others are blissfully unaware of the truth and unaware that they might be standing on the edge of danger/ruin/degradation/waste/harm/humiliation/etc.

The question is, when we know a truth, is it our responsibility to tell it?

Take last night for example, the reason for such a heavy discussion and bleary eyes this morning.

We had a lovely evening with friends celebrating their citizenship ceremony.  After the ceremony, a group of us continued the celebrations in a nearby bar/restaurant. 

Paul and I were wondering what to order off the menu when we spotted a flyer on the bar which had a picture of a burger and chips heaped on a plate.  The flyer said, “Wednesday special:  steak sandwich, $15.50.”  Excellent we both thought.  It fit the bill perfectly and we ordered it.

When the steak sandwich “special” arrived, it looked nothing like the picture.  It was a few bits of stir-fried meat between two thin pieces of garlic toast with onions and sauce, accompanied by no more than ten chips.  So by “special” the restaurant meant “smallish” or “half-size” or in fact, “meagre.”  It was fine for me but left Paul still ravenous plus there was the feeling of having been misled.  I hate to be deceived or taken advantage of.  It wasn’t a special price for an ordinary meal, which we had assumed.  And it was nothing like the picture.  It was, however, very tasty.

We certainly didn’t make a fuss or let it spoil a wonderful evening.  But it became a topic of conversation later at home between the two of us.  As these things do.

Knowing that I’m on a particular bent for social justice these days, Paul asked me if I should write to the restaurant to complain about the “special.”

I told him that if we were in Canada, I would have left a “special” tip in response (ie, meagre) and probably tried to explain politely and firmly to management that we felt ripped off.  We don’t tip in New Zealand. And we as a culture of very kind and “look the other way” people, don’t like to complain to management.  About anything.  If we had, management probably would have raised their eyebrows high in surprise and then completely missing the point would have said in their defense, “what are you complaining about…you didn’t pay full price did you?”   So we didn’t bother, and I can see why others don’t bother.  I’m not advocating for a tipping system, but there are reasons why it works.

But the interesting thing is that we now have this thing called social media.  Most restaurants and bars have their own facebook page which you can follow, like and even post comments.  I have seen people complain about service/meals/etc on some of these pages, for all the general public to see and read.  The potential for damage to a business’s reputation is huge.  So this culture of kiwis who never complain is soon becoming a culture of people who think it is their right to “out” and abuse anyone on-line that they disagree with or are offended by.

This is not the right response, at least not in the first instance.  It is much more gentle and appropriate to speak to management privately or to write a letter.

But is it always appropriate to speak the truth or do we sometimes have to let things go?

And what about our friend who was choosing his own meal and asked us if the steak sandwich was any good?  Paul asked him if he had already ordered it, to which he had replied, “yes.” So Paul wisely said, “then yes, it was very good.”  He did not lie.  It was a very tasty tiny bit of food.  If our friend had looked carefully enough at our plates he would have seen it for what it was.  If he didn’t, but ordered it blindly, and was disappointed, then I would have felt bad for him, but I wouldn’t have felt responsible.  Just as if he had asked before he had ordered and if we had replied, “tasty but not good value for money,” but he ordered it anyway, then no responsibility would have fallen on our shoulders at all. 
Having said that, it would have been a different matter if we had eaten our meals at another table and then joined our friends and so we knew none of them had seen the food or lack thereof on our plates.  Then if we heard our friend tossing up his options including the special, should we have told him our experience of it even if he didn’t ask?  Yes.  He may have been really hungry. He may have had a craving for a burger bun instead of garlic bread and assumed as we did that he was getting something that looked like the picture on the flyer.  It would have been wrong for us to let our friend make a mistake out of ignorance.  If he had all the facts about the special, in other words the truth, before him and then he ordered it for whatever reason, then that would be his business and no concern of ours.

This restaurant meal is a little thing but it is a good illustration.  We could choose to do nothing except refuse to give this restaurant our future business.  Yet, the meal was hot and tasty, delivered to our table speedily, and all the other meals appeared to be good value.  Is it right to form such a drastic judgment based on one incident which may have been an oversight or just a bad night for steak sandwiches? 

So we could do nothing and give them another chance, but learn from our mistake and not order the “special” again.  In effect, we could get over ourselves at having been misled and this is certainly the easiest option which requires the least amount of effort on our parts.  We get over ourselves often.  But what about the next person who comes in and orders the special and walks away feeling used and deceived?  What about the person who feels so aggrieved about the special that was nothing special, they jump onto this restaurant’s social media page and start slamming them?  And so word gets out, the damage is done and the restaurant starts to lose business and income.  Which leads to laying off staff.  Which leads to the single mum who had worked hard for that job so she could support her kids, having to go back to Work and Income stressed and worried about the future…
Drastic, I know, but possible.

I think I have answered my question and this doesn’t just apply to a restaurant meal.  Think about it:  if you had narrowly escaped with your life out of a dark forest and you saw some people heading into it, you would stop them and tell them there were wolves in that forest, even if they hadn’t asked or didn’t appear to want to know.  You wouldn’t prevent them from entering by chaining them to a tree but you would make sure they knew the risks.
But there is no point in answering my question on truth without looking for answers from the ultimate source of Truth.  The Bible makes it pretty clear.  In the Old Testament God speaks through His prophet to the people of Jerusalem and Judah, "These are the things you are to do:  Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts" (Zechariah 8:16, NIV).  And also in the New Testament, the apostle Paul writes to the church, "Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body."  (Ephesians 4:25).  In neither instance are we told to speak the truth when asked.  Just simply, speak the truth.
The right thing is to tell the truth as we see it, to the people who need to hear it.  If we tell it and people choose not to listen or hear the truth that is their business.  But if they do hear the truth and do something about it, then the potential for harm is lessened.
It doesn't mean that speaking the truth will be easy.  But in the words of J.C. Ryle, "Never let us be guilty of sacrificing any portion of truth on the altar of peace."

Not easy.  But important.

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