The Kenya Forum | Naked and Ashamed: The Plight of Truth in a World Obsessed with Deception - The Kenya Forum

March 15, 2024


The legend of the Truth and the Lie serves as a timeless parable about society’s complex and often paradoxical relationship with honesty.

More by Waweru Njoroge

Naked and Ashamed: The Plight of Truth in a World Obsessed with Deception

Naked and Ashamed: The Plight of Truth in a World Obsessed with Deception

Truth Coming Out of Her Well by Jean Leone Gerome (1896)

According to a 19th century legend, the Truth and the Lie meet one day. The Lie says to the Truth: “It’s a marvelous day today”! The Truth looks up to the skies and sighs, for the day was really beautiful. They spend a lot of time together, ultimately arriving beside a well. The Lie tells the Truth: “The water is very nice, let’s take a bath together!” The Truth, once again suspicious, tests the water and discovers that it indeed is very nice. They undress and start bathing.

Suddenly, the Lie comes out of the water, puts on the clothes of the Truth and runs away. The furious Truth comes out of the well and runs everywhere to find the Lie and to get her clothes back. The World, seeing the Truth naked, turns its gaze away, with contempt and rage. The poor Truth returns to the well and disappears forever, hiding therein, its shame. Since then, the Lie travels around the world, dressed as the Truth, satisfying the needs of society, because, the World, in any case, harbors no wish at all to meet the naked Truth.

Is unvarnished candor always the highest ideal?

The legend of the Truth and the Lie serves as a timeless parable about society’s complex and often paradoxical relationship with honesty. On one hand, we laud the virtues of truth and decry the perils of deception. Yet in reality, we frequently find ourselves drawn to the palatable facade of lies, recoiling from the naked truth that can discomfort and disturb.

At the heart of this folktale beats a deeper philosophical quandary – is unvarnished candor always the highest ideal? Or are there times when embellishment, omission, or even outright falsehood can serve a pragmatic social purpose? The story hints that while the naked Truth may be philosophically loftier, the Lie’s mastery of appearance and pretense often proves more agreeable to the world’s sensibilities.

The Comfort of Lies: A Global Phenomenon

From the propaganda machines of authoritarian regimes to the deceptive marketing tactics of corporations, the allure of comforting lies has permeated societies across the globe. In China, the state’s control over information has allowed for the perpetuation of convenient narratives that bolster its power. In the United States, the tobacco industry notoriously concealed the dangers of smoking for decades, prioritizing profits over truth.

However, lies, even comforting ones, can sometimes serve a greater good. In times of war, governments may choose to withhold sensitive information or engage in strategic deception to protect lives and maintain operational security. During World War II, the Allies employed various deception tactics, such as the use of inflatable tanks and dummy aircraft, to mislead the Axis powers and gain a tactical advantage.

The Peril of Half-Truths: A Slippery Slope to Deception

Half-truths can be even more insidious than outright lies, as they contain just enough truth to be believable while obscuring crucial details. The United Kingdom’s campaign for Brexit was marred by half-truths and misleading claims from both sides, sowing confusion and mistrust among the electorate. In Brazil, the exploitation of the Amazon rainforest has been facilitated by half-truths that downplay the environmental and social costs.

Yet, in certain situations, half-truths may be employed to protect the vulnerable or prevent greater harm. In cases of domestic abuse or witness protection programs, authorities may selectively withhold information to ensure the safety of victims or informants. Medical professionals may also use half-truths judiciously when delivering sensitive news to patients, gradually revealing the full truth to minimize psychological trauma.

The Cost of Rejecting Truth: A World Built on Sand

When societies reject or ignore inconvenient truths, the consequences can be severe. The legacy of colonialism in Africa has been perpetuated by the distortion of historical narratives and the suppression of indigenous voices. In Australia, the systematic erasure of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures has hindered the process of reconciliation and healing.

Conversely, there may be instances where rejecting certain truths, at least temporarily, can be necessary for maintaining social cohesion or preventing violence. In deeply divided societies emerging from conflict, a period of selective truth-telling or truth-shaping may be employed to allow for a gradual process of healing and reconciliation. This approach was seen in South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where the full truth was not always immediately revealed to avoid reigniting tensions.

The Necessity of Truth: Uncomfortable Yet Essential for Progress

While the truth can be uncomfortable, it is a necessary catalyst for positive change and progress. The #MeToo movement gained traction by exposing uncomfortable truths about sexual harassment and assault, ultimately sparking a global reckoning. The #BlackLivesMatter movement gained momentum by exposing uncomfortable truths about systemic racism and police brutality, leading to worldwide call for justice and equality. In Rwanda, the Gacaca courts played a crucial role in addressing the genocide’s atrocities and promoting healing and reconciliation.

Nevertheless, there may be instances where the full truth is temporarily withheld or presented gradually to prevent societal upheaval or harm. In the aftermath of significant tragedies or disasters, authorities may carefully manage the release of information to maintain public order and prevent panic. During the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials sometimes employed strategic communication to manage public expectations and encourage compliance with safety measures.

Embracing the Truth: Building a Better Future

As individuals and societies, embracing the truth, no matter how difficult, is the only way to build a better future. In Germany, the process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with the past) has been a critical part of the nation’s efforts to confront the horrors of the Holocaust and prevent such atrocities from happening again. In India, the non-violent resistance led by Mahatma Gandhi was rooted in the power of truth and non-violence, ultimately contributing to the country’s independence from British rule.

However, there may be instances where a degree of selective truth-telling or truth-shaping is necessary to protect the greater good or prevent unintended harm. In situations of national security or ongoing negotiations, leaders may choose to withhold certain truths or engage in strategic communication to safeguard vital interests or maintain leverage. In personal relationships, individuals may employ discretion or tactful communication to preserve trust and prevent unnecessary hurt or conflict.

Seeking the Truth

The legendary encounter reminds us that the naked Truth, while philosophically elevated, can be a harsh mistress – one that society may not always welcome with open arms. There is undeniable power in well-crafted illusion and appealing falsehoods tailored to our desires.

Yet the tale cautions that when deception becomes our normative state, society risks becoming unmoored from reality altogether. The Truth’s disappearance into the well symbolizes how untruth, left fully unchecked, can cast the moral fabric of a civilization into a pit of darkness bereft of any illuminating honesty.

At our core, humans fundamentally crave the truth – we want to understand ourselves and the world around us as it truly is, not as we wish it to be. Yet this legend serves as a sobering reminder that embracing the whole, unvarnished Truth requires a courage that too few are willing to muster in a world that prefers to avert its gaze.

Balancing Truth and Lies in a Complex World

The legend doesn’t tell us exactly what to do, but it challenges us to find a middle ground. It points out that being brutally honest might not work in every situation, and relying too much on deception can cut you off from the truth, causing problems for individuals and society.

Here’s the idea: aim for honesty but don’t be afraid to use white lies when needed to avoid unnecessary harm. It’s about being smart with our words and our actions. Strike too far towards cold candor, and you risk alienating others. Dive too deep into deception’s warm embrace, and you may lose your moral bearings.

The metaphor of the naked Truth and the well-dressed Lie vividly illustrates the enduring allure of contrasting charms. The legend suggests that the optimal path lies in finding a balanced equilibrium, engaging prudently with both honesty and deception while remaining firmly anchored to an ethical core rooted in honesty and integrity.

In essence, the narrative encourages navigating the complexities of truth and falsehood with wisdom. Occasionally using lies sensibly, akin to applying glitter, may contribute to maintaining societal harmony when confronting the unfiltered truth proves overwhelming. Embracing this well-balanced approach allows you to stay authentic, uphold ethical values, and forge meaningful connections in both personal and societal interactions.

Other excellent articles by Waweru Njoroge that may interest Kenya Forum readers:

Kenya’s digital crossroad: a dance between vice and virtue (26/1/2024)

Beyond stereotype: rethinking ‘Africa Time’ in a global context (24/2/2024)

Kenya’s tragic surrender to narcissistic WIIM culture (8/3/2024)



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