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Posts Tagged ‘honesty’

I was putting together a speech on the topic of honesty and it reminded me of a boss I had years ago. Let’s call him Ivan. Ivan was the most honest person I’ve ever known. I was in his office one day when his phone rang. Quickly he said, “Don’t go. It’ll just be City Hall calling me back. It’s not private.” So I sat there and pretended not to listen.

Apparently he had phoned the city’s finance department to say that he had put an addition on his house – his very kind retired neighbour had built a tiny (two foot by three foot) mini-roof over his front doorstep so anyone standing there in the rain would not get wet. He was telling the finance department about this because he knew that any improvement to a home raised his municipal taxes and he didn’t want them to forget to raise his.

I think it took him three times to get this across to an incredulous city employee. Now I consider myself an honest person, but I remembered a short fence and arbour I had added to my house and, no, I hadn’t phoned to mention it to city hall.

The story about Ivan is a good one to include in a speech about honesty. It is as true as I can remember; as close to actual fact as my memory allows. But if I wanted to get maximum mileage out of this story I would change it a bit.  I would not be speaking about my boss Ivan. Instead, the story would be about Evie, a single mom who worked for me. She had to scrimp and save every penny and she was working on a special project with me – she did not have the benefit of a steady job and wage.

Can you see how much more powerful the story is if Evie phones city hall? Ivan could easily afford a slight increase in taxes, Evie could not. As it happens I did have a woman working for me then who fits the description of Evie so it would not be total fabrication.

So, where do you personally stand on changing the story? We all have our own standards of honesty and only you can answer that. Myself? Yes, I’d change the story (even if I didn’t have a real Evie).  I would do it because I always want to express my message in the strongest way I can. If I feel my message is important, and I usually do,  then I will do anything I can to sharpen my stories and anecdotes so they hit home as forcefully as possible. I take time to sharpen and polish my stories even if that means they end up not being completely factual.

I take pride in sharpening and polishing my stories. I want them to be the most pointed of weapons. Occasionally they remain true to remembered fact and that’s satisfying. But when you are speaking to try to change attitudes and behaviours the myth may be a better weapon than the truth.

And as a famous satrap once asked, “What is truth?”

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