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Can You Handle The Truth

Nov 1, 2007
One of the things that I've noticed today in society is that everyone has a problem with the truth. I don't mean we walk around lying all the time, but we are always afraid of hurting someone's feelings or becoming entangled in some sort of confrontation with the person we are speaking with or better yet the person we're living with. Sometimes we are concerned about someone's reaction to us so we bend the truth or poke around trying to figure out what that person wants to hear. It really starts to become a problem in personal relationships when couples are afraid to make their desires known for fear of a break-up or a divorce. People can have a problem with the truth on the job, when a supervisor might worry about an employee's reaction to a poor performance evaluation; in education a teacher might be worried about a student's or parent's reaction, and then could easily award grades that are not in line with the student's performance.

When I was in high school my guidance counselor called me down to his office and pulled out my grades. He said, "What do you want to do when you're through with high school?" I told him that I didn't know, and then in the next breath, thinking that I had to tell him something other than the truth- that I wanted to be a bartender, I told him that I wanted to be a lawyer. "A lawyer," he said, pointing to my grades, "These are not lawyer's grades. If I were you I would start to think about doing something else." I walked out of his office, and wasn't the least bit offended. I didn't even think about going home and telling my father that my guidance counselor said I wasn't smart enough to be a lawyer. I never said one word to my father. You know what? The guy had actually told me the truth, and the truth really did set me free. I started to look honestly at my abilities, and I was able to acknowledge the fact that I hadn't worked hard academically for my first three years of high school. I started to really think about my future realistically. My guidance counselor made me take a hard look in the mirror, and come to terms with what my abilities and my attitude really were. He told me the truth, and I appreciated that.

Well, in 1977, my father sold the bar, and I became a teacher that same year. I really enjoyed teaching. I was a special educator.Many of my students had academic or behavioral problems. In fact, my students were usually the worst behavior problems in the school and could really get to me on some days. But overall I developed relationships with the kids, and things seemed to always go pretty well. As I progressed in my career I noticed that things were changing. I was expected to put up with more and more behavior problems, and everyone was giving me some excuse for a kid's deviance. The catch phrase that seemed to be in vogue about 20 years ago was, I really like this kid, but I don't like his behavior. Was this the truth? I don't think so. Is it really possible to like someone and not like their behavior? The truth is we don't like the person because of his behavior, and people need to be made aware of this in a considerate way. A person is his behavior, and the two can't be separated. I can give you the names of people who are well known in society for absolute deviance, and you tell me if you like them, but not their behavior. Let's try Charles Manson, Scott Peterson, Jeffrey Dahmer, or even Adolph Hitler. Can anyone not like their behavior but still like them as people? No, we don't like them period. The perception we have of a person is based on his behavior. The truth is if the behavior is not likable we probably will dislike the person. People need to know that if their behavior doesn't change, then others won't want to develop meaningful relationships with them, and ultimately won't like them.

Very recently a student came into my office (I was working as an interim principal) and began to discuss with me what he wanted to do after he finished high school. He wanted to be a doctor That is a terrific goal for a young person. Well, I asked him what he scored on his SATs. He told me he scored about a 400 on each section. I was thinking in my mind that a perfect score is 800 on each section, and a pretty good score would be about a 650 to 700. I knew something right then and there; he wasn't going to be my doctor. I proceeded to pull his grades out and found that his math and science grades were C's and D's. I of course wanted to respond with the same question that my guidance counselor asked me. Do these look like a doctor's grades? But, based upon the culture and society's norms I couldn't ask that question. I immediately directed this student to the entry requirements that colleges have for their pre-med program, and ultimately medical school. He discovered the truth on his own, and came back to me and thanked me for helping him realize that his study skills needed improvement, and that he needed to take and re-take the college boards. The truth made him aware of his own weaknesses and how much harder he was going to have to work in order to achieve his goals.

Society seems to want to withhold the truth and make everyone believe they're ok even if their behavior is not. Society makes everyone believe that they are smarter than they are and that their behavior is caused by circumstance, their environment, or lack of therapy or medication.

Facing the truth about my abilities and my work ethic put me on track and helped me choose a good vocation and helped me to understand how I needed to improve my work ethic. Subsequently, instead of floating through life unsuccessfully from one job to another, I worked hard in college, graduate school, and then as an employee. So the next time your kids come home and say that their teacher told them that they have to work harder, or their work is unacceptable, or that their behavior is unacceptable, or they better consider going to a county college rather than Dartmouth, thank that teacher for doing something that is a rarity today- speaking the truth.
About the Author
Jim Burns is one of America's most inspirational educational speakers. His humorous and insightful presentations touch and influence audiences in an unforgettable way. Best known for his presentations on Bullying, Motivating Disaffected Students, Diffusing Power Struggles, and Character Education. For more about Jim Burns http://behavioral-management.com/
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