Sunday, November 18, 2007

Reflections on Truth Telling

• What are the differences between truth and honesty

Some Quotes about Truth and Honesty

An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens.
--Thomas Jefferson

If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything.
--Mark Twain

Honesty is the best image.
--Tom Wilson

Our lives improve only when we take chances - and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.
--Walter Anderson

No legacy is so rich as honesty.
--William Shakespeare

Son, always tell the truth. Then you'll never have to remember what you said the last time.
--Sam Rayburn

When in doubt, tell the truth.
--Mark Twain

Honesty is the rarest wealth anyone can possess, and yet all the honesty in the world ain't lawful tender for a loaf of bread.
- - Josh Billings

A truth that's told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.
- - William Blake "Auguries of Innocence"

Truth exists, only falsehood has to be invented.
- - Georges Braque

No one can earn a million dollars honestly.
- - William Jennings Bryan

Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again.
- - William Cullen Bryant

Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that you've got it made.
- - George Burns

The easiest person to deceive is one's self.
- - Edward George Bulwer-Lytton "The Disowned" 1828

There is a case for telling the truth; there is a case for avoiding the scandal; but there is no possible defense for the man who tells the scandal, but does not tell the truth
- - G. K. Chesterton

Tis strange - but true; for truth is always strange; Stranger than fiction.
- - George Gordon, Lord Byron "Don Juan"

Truth, like light, blinds. Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.
- - Albert Camus "The Fall" 1957

Truth is the highest thing that man may keep.
- - Geoffrey Chaucer "Canterbury Tales. The Frankeleines Tale"

It is a fine thing to be honest, but it is also very important to be right.
- - Winston Churchill

• Why is it important for coaches to tell the truth to their clients?

Truthfulness is at the base of all trust. Without trust the coach/client relationship is based in falsehood and dishonesty. It cannot go forward. Without the truth, or truthfulness, the authenticity of feedback, reflection and the nature of the relationship itself rests on illusion.

• As a coach, how will you support your clients to hear truths that are difficult?

This question assumes that a truth being offered is one the coach is privy to and the client is not. It presumes that honesty/truthfulness about what the coach perceives to be true is the same as capital ‘T’ Truth, and I think the two things can be quite different things.

Perhaps their relationship is best drawn as a Venn diagram of intersecting circles. Perhaps honesty/truthfulness is a much larger circle with Truth being a circle, quite a bit smaller, made up of the relatively small number of things that everyone holds as incontrovertibly true, about which it is quite easy to be honest. Would the smaller circle of Truth fit entirely inside the larger circle of the things one can be honest or truthful about?

Say my client wanted me to support him or her in the defense of their belief that the truth about water boarding is that it is not torture. How would I go about doing that? How would I even go about coaching a prospective candidate for the office of United States Attorney General if he/she, truthfully, states he/she is yet unsure whether water boarding is in fact torture, and he/she wants me to help him/her prepare to present that ‘truth’. How would I say the truth, and in what form? What truth would it be? How would it be applied?

It is true that the prospective candidate has a truth. It is true that the truth they hold is shared by others, if not by me. It may also be that the truth they hold is totally alien to any truth I hold. Which part of what truth do I tell? Which do I focus on in my work with this client? Where is the tipping point between my participating in the promulgation of a truth that I may believe is dastardly and criminal, and my job as a coach, which is to acknowledge and assist my client in discovering and finding ways to live in their own truths? This is an extreme example, but certainly lives in the realm of the complicated nature of our relationships to our clients and to the truths that they hold; which ones can be challenged, and which ones are to be accepted as the product of diverse systems of belief and functioning on the planet.

I am not a complete relativist, but these considerations about truth and honesty are certainly thorny and un-easy… they live in a country in which nothing can really be taken for granted, a place where truths can be quite easily masked by the lies of style, necessity, politics, greed, unexamined habit and the fears of discovery and punishment, overt or passive.

How are we to hear what is the truth? How are we to reflect that truth back? Certainly it is important to consider all of these things before we attempt to “tell the truth” to our clients. Certainly, if we are truthful, we must consider where the intersections of our truths and our clients’ truths lie… and how far down the road of their truths we can go before we start to betray and damage our relationship to our own.

Still, there are times when a conversation swims willingly in the ponds of the intersection of our truths and our clients’… and these are productive, fertile, and crystal clear ponds. We must pursue those ponds, and not be too afraid to beckon our clients to go there with us… show them the scuba masks and safety equipment, assure them you will be right beside them all the way, and celebrate when you both surface, unharmed and enlightened by what you have discovered together

• What is the relationship between fear and the truth?

There may be many reasons to fear hearing truth; there may be many reasons to fear telling the truth. There is power in truth, in the telling or in the hearing, to those told and to those who tell it. There are good reasons to fear that power, and to respect it. One cannot avoid that power by pretending it does not exist, or pretending all truths are to be received joyfully or simply.

Even those who have no reason not to tell the truth can fear its revelation, and the power of transformation that the revelation holds. The truth destroys masks, even ones that appear to be unnecessary or transparent, hardly even there. But these masks have been essential to survival in some, even forgotten, way, and cannot be lowered without the acute awareness of how vulnerable lowering them can make us feel. We must respect our power as truth tellers and be aware of the kinds of fear people cultivate in relationship to the truths in their lives.

• What are your policies on confidentiality and conflict of interest and how do you articulate these to your clients?

My policies on confidentiality and conflict of interest will be included in my early communications with each prospective client and repeated as necessary to increase feelings and assurances of safety as the client/coach relationship develops.

Confidentiality, in brief, requires that no one be privy to any part of my discussions with my clients unless I have received written permission from my clients prior to disclosing whatever information has been deemed necessary and beneficial for the coaching process. It requires that, in consulting other professionals or for educational purposes, in order to better serve my clients, that I either receive written permission from the client prior to any disclosures, or take careful measures to protect the specific identity of those I am talking about and keep their specific identities anonymous.

These policies will be available in writing and stated and restated as needed.

• How can you create a trusting space that allows your clients to speak the truth?

1. Observe basic rules of confidentiality
2. Consult clients re their specific needs re establishing safety in the coaching relationship
3. Interact in respectful and authentically supportive ways
4. Repeatedly confer with the client about their feelings of safety and the progress they are making
5. Clearly communicate limits and boundaries of the client/coach relationship and the coach’s responsibility to maintain those boundaries to facilitate excellence in the coaching relationship and its outcomes.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Another Stafford Poem and Reflections

Here’s another poem from William Stafford that I like. Stafford’s one of my favorite poets for several reasons… and maybe this poem explains many of those reasons.

I had the privilege of meeting William Stafford on two separate occasions. My first meeting with him was during a writer’s conference I attended at Squaw Valley in California in the late 1970s. He really took, what I recognize now as, a coach’s approach with my worries, my venting, and my desire to find my own way through the conference. He didn’t offer much advice. He listened and was kind and he acknowledged my insecurities and the way I expressed them. I was grateful and more relaxed…. not feeling that there were some unstated behavioral “poet's” standards that I had to discover and then adhere to in order to go forward as a writer of poems at the conference, and then into the world. I could be myself. It was good enough.

I was a young writer, and looked even younger than I was. I was always surprised then, and I am even now in spite of my years, at the kind of interpersonal and inter-group power struggles that occur in groups of poets, in groups of artists and other groups otherwise, perhaps romantically, defined by the altruism and humanist intent in their over all aims and urges in the work that they pursue. I never expect these, rather darker, less than conscious, urges to arise in the open in such groups. When they do it alarms and dismays me.

At the conference I was early in my developing understanding that even in groups of people truly committed to doing good works for the betterment of the species, and the planet in general, there were deeply rooted conflicts; conflicts, often unstated or completely under-realized on a conscious level, that defined much of what I felt occurred and was accomplished. These worked as a powerful and distracting subtext in the dynamics of such a group… and in fact could pull the group apart, or at least distract individuals and the group itself away from its initial urges and goals. And it was painful in so many ways, to most of the participants.

At that time, in that situation, Stafford helped me retain my center in all this. He seemed to take some good natured humor in such interpersonal hijinks that had the power to divert people from their goals as individuals and in groups of otherwise like-minded people. This made the conflicts more manageable, and less overwhelmingly significant… but never really minimized the serious nature of what they could undermine, and what action toward mutual goals they could derail and roadblock.

I am unsure how this relates to coaching, aside from the fact that later I found that Stafford had been a conscientious objector during World War Two, which must have been a terrifically difficult public position to take at the time. In fact, it has been said, and I think it is overwhelmingly recognizable, that much of Stafford’s work is marked by the sometimes lonely process of exploring one’s lack of connection in the world, one’s essential alienation and homelessness even at home; and the search for, and discovery of, the sometimes fleeting seeds of connection that have the potential to, at least, be nurtured into being.

In this poem this is reinforced most in its focus on finding and staying with what is authentic, and how we need others to keep us to that line of authenticity, no matter how wavery it is, or our efforts are at following it. No matter how alone we might feel in our search to stay within eye/ear/touch/smell shot of it. Our efforts, and the line of authenticity itself, waver; and so, if we are ready to commit to the task, our efforts to find and re-find our connection to it weave in and through it… a braid. Braids are quite strong. Rope is a braid.

How does this relate to coaching? I think perhaps Mr. Stafford was really one of my early coaches. He had the power to influence my own direction… he knew it, he respected and was humbled by the power I had given to him in that role. And he respected me and acknowledged me. Never once did he minimize my perceptions about the things that disturbed me about how people, even I... in a process that is perhaps normal in spite of its deep difficulties as well as its intersections for celebration... fail to go forward in easy, straight, unified lines. Groups can only braid their efforts together the best they can… and sometimes they don’t do very well at all.

My own awareness of the nature of individual and group functioning , and my empathic, intuitive detections of the sub textually expressed conflicts, in individuals and in groups, have been a matter of constant distress, unpleasant surprise, and at times the desire, even need, to separate from others, from community. But this same curse is also a gift at the core of my strength as someone who wishes to be of service to others, as an artist and as a coach.

This is not an easy task, and the balance between separation and engagement continues to hugely define my awareness and the underlying tensions of my life. So, they have urged me to find my own road while also begging me to engage… to find a way to express the truths those struggles reveal to me to help others engage in their own journeys of discovery.

Because, of course, this struggle is the universal struggle. It is the struggle of every person. And it is the coach’s, and the poet's, job to integrate these polarities into the unified whole that is what we are as humans. Together/Separate, With/Without, One/Many, Individual/Community. “…it holds/ together something more than the world,/ this line. And we are your wavery/ efforts at following it. Are you coming?/ Good: now it is time.”

-- Bob


An Introduction to Some Poems

Look: No one ever promised for sure
that we would sing. We have decided
to moan. In a strange dance that
we don’t understand till we do it, we
have to carry on.

Just as in sleep you have to dream
the exact dream to round out your life,
so we have to live that dream into stories
and hold them close at you, close at the
edge we share, to be right.

We find it an awful thing to meet people,
serious or not, who have turned into vacant
effective people, so far lost that they
won’t believe their own feelings
enough to follow them out.

The authentic is a line from one thing
along to the next; it interests us.
Strangely, it relates to what works,
but is not quite the same. It never
swerves for revenge,

Or profit, or fame: it holds
together something more than the world,
this line. And we are your wavery
efforts at following it. Are you coming?
Good: now it is time.

--- William Stafford

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Our deepest fear

I got the following Marianne Williamson quote from a coaching client. I think it is worthwhile and relates to my own journey as well. I follow with a poem by William Stafford that I sent back to that client that I think relates more to the process of how we activate "our light", "our greatness". --Bob

Marianne Williamson, used in Nelson Mandela’s 1994 Inaugural speech:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”


A Living

Even pain can take you, in waves:
call the interval happiness. You can
travel; whatever nags you, you can
change it. You can roll this burden away.
In the pinched bend of your street
you can look back, or ahead, or wait.

And there is easy talk, for throwing
back like Annie-Over, or a minuet,
a way to act human in these years the stars
look past. And somewhere around you begins
that lifted road lighted by sunset, offered
again and again, laced where the sky lives:

Someday your road.

--William Stafford