Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
This has to be one of the simplest, most concise pieces of literature ever written. And if followed, it leaves no room for interpretation. There simply isn’t any wiggle room. A quick search on the internet tells me that it was coined in Old English and became a part of English trials sometime around the 13th century, so it has been around a long time. Let’s examine it piece by piece.
Do you swear to tell the truth?
This is the most straightforward portion, I think. It simply means that what I am about to say I did not invent or make up. It is factual.
Do you swear to tell the whole truth?
Now honesty is becoming a little bit trickier. This covers the lie of omission, meaning that I am not leaving anything out of the story. Not only is what I have said truthful, but I never left out any parts of the story. This one for me is hardest when I am delivering bad news on a difficult subject. I tend to want to leave out the worst parts to “soften the blow” or to make me look better.
Do you swear to tell nothing but the truth?
To me, this is the trickiest one of all. This covers exaggeration or embellishment. This is hardest for me because I like to try and make my story a little better. For some reason, I feel like you won’t enjoy the story or like me as much unless I embellish it to a certain degree.
I could see the harm and why it may not be a good idea to outright tell a lie even in early sobriety. Obviously, if I was telling an outright lie, it was to cover my butt for something that I probably had no business being involved in to begin with.
These old-timers in the meetings kept talking about “rigorous honesty” and what that meant. I was so full of desperation that I was willing to listen to anything they had to say. That led me to further examine “the whole truth”. I could see the importance of this, but it definitely upped the ante. For me, it really means sharing the part of the story that usually makes for difficult conversation. It tends to be the part I would rather not talk about.
Now for the kicker: “And nothing but the truth”. I truly could not see how embellishing a story a little bit could be harmful. I did start to notice however that almost every time I related an event to somebody, I exaggerated and embellished the story. I erroneously came to the conclusion that for me, the simplest solution would be to exaggerate to such a degree that it was obvious that it was an exaggeration. For example, if I was telling a story about meeting somebody and they were 10 minutes late, I normally would have complained they were 15 or 20 minutes late. But since I now knew that would be believable, I would say something like they were two and a half days late. That way you would know I was exaggerating.
So what is the harm to that? For the longest time, I truly believed there was no harm to it because it was so obvious that I was exaggerating. But what I have recently come to realize is that the harm is that it just isn’t honest. The person I am sharing the story with still doesn’t know what the truth is. In my example about the late friend, there may not be any harm, but I don’t know that. I may have unjustly influenced your opinion of that person, therefore causing harm to both you and the late party. You see, it isn’t up to me to know or decide what is harmful to others and what isn’t. I do not know what God’s plan is for me and I do not know and cannot predict what effect my actions will have on others. So my actions can and will have unforeseen consequences on others. I could not see that before, but I do now. So, I have to do better with all aspects of my honesty.
Rigorous is a pretty tall order that I don’t expect I will ever perfect, but I know I can always do better.