To Tell the Truth: ‘Truth Hath a Scratched Face’

Sanctimonious people everywhere denounce damn lies and the lying liars who tell them. Speaking the truth, they imply, would cure our political and personal ills. Its absence is the cause of our woes. But is telling the truth really good for you?

Philosophers should question everything, even truth itself. Why truth? What is the value of truth?

Be suspicious about the philosophical drive toward truth. By holding truth up high, like a trophy, surely the philosophers overlook what is lying at their feet, the ground of their truth.

Telling the truth can be detrimental to your psychological and physical well being. If we listen to our instincts, they often tell us to avoid bringing light to truths too painful or too dangerous to face.

Folk traditions in many countries also pass along proverbs that warn against a too easy relationship with the truth. Wise proverbs in Arabic, Persian, Russian, Serbian, English and Armenian all warn about the dangers of truth telling.

He who speaks the truth should have one foot in the stirrup.



Source: George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library. “He who speaks the truth should have one foot in the stirrup.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The description on the back of the vintage British cigarette card explains the meaning of the drawing and gives us several additional proverbs.

Eastern Proverbs: A series of 25—No. 11.

“He who Speaks the truth should have one foot in the stirrup.”

‘Truly the purity of the gem is shown by the testing,’

say the Persians,

and the hand of truth rends the cloak of doubt.’

Such cloak-rending, however, appears to be thoroughly unpopular, and the proverbs of the world, with remarkable unanimity, promise the truth-teller a thoroughly bad time.

In Russia

To tell the truth is to lose one’s friends’

and in Serbia

People always chastise the fiddler of truth with his own bow.’

Even in England

Truth finds foes where it should find none’

and at times

Truth hath a scratched face.’

The Arabian proverb illustrated resembles the Armenian

Give a horse to him who tells the truth that he may escape.’

If you choose to speak truth to power, or even to people you like, these folk proverbs warn that you may end up with many foes and few friends, be in physical danger and in need of a quick getaway.

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