I’m behind in my blogging for a worthy cause; I’ve read so many good books lately and had so many ideas for blog posts that I’m writing faster than I can post. Which is a wonderful problem to have. Today’s post features the amazing new offering by Faith Hunter, Blood of the Earth. This is a spin-off series that takes place in the world of Jane Yellowrock, but focuses on a new heroine, Nell Ingram. Nell is a complex character with paranormal powers. We learn about Nell’s evolving abilities right along with her. In addition to all of that, she is a survivor of a cult that married her off to an older man at 15, and now she’s a 23-year old widow. There is a lot to this book. I can’t recommend it enough. But I digress.
As the book progresses, Nell discovers a talent for speaking truth to power. This is a heady ability, and its importance is highlighted when Nell is recruited by the Feds to gather information from her former cult cohorts, who are suspected of collaboration with a militant racist group call Human Speakers of Truth. Needless to say, these asshats aren’t speaking much truth at all. But Nell most certainly is. Faith Hunter uses this clever play on words to illuminate the path she wants her readers to follow.
Speaking truth to power—and even to regular folks who might not want to hear it—is a rare and valuable skill. In fact, I built my entire national security career on just that ability. Speaking truth involves courage, resolve, strength, sensitivity and a willingness to sacrifice oneself for the greater good. It is not for the faint-hearted. Nell is far from faint-hearted. She is a wonderful character, full of fear and vulnerability, but with a spine of steel and a will of iron. She is admirable and inspirational.
Most of us don’t want to hear unpleasant facts or negative opinions. We eschew criticism, even when it’s constructive. When someone tells us things we don’t want to hear, we tend to edge away from that someone. This tendency is not necessarily good, but we do it anyway, like so many other things that constitute poor choices. And our unwillingness to hear unpleasantries is reinforced by the equally strong desire in most of us to please people or avoid confrontation. Taken together, these traits mean that many of us live in a bubble with others who perpetuate our delusions of grandeur and competence.
This unfortunate situation is even more pronounced in professional organizations and in the corridors of government and corporate power. Many of those at the top (and I’ve found men to be more susceptible to this than women as a gross generalization), prefer that their positive self perceptions be reflected by those who serve and support them. So what ends up happening is the Fox News syndrome —where only supportive opinions are expressed. Truth? Truth becomes what we want it to be, rather than a reflection of reality. Denial? Nope. Don’t even know I am lying if everyone around me is doing it as well.
Penetrating that defensive wall of denial is difficult and daunting. I’ve been thrown out of many an office for pointing out that the emperor is buck ass naked. But I’m happy to say that I’ve also been escorted to some of the highest offices in the land because over the years my reputation for brutal honesty and objectivity has been valued. Turns out there are some powerful people who realize that surrounding ourselves with bobble-headed yes-men (and women) is the best way to fail.
But it takes courage to say things others won’t. It’s scary and the consequences can be quite negative, as both Nell and I can tell you. Speaking truth, especially to power, means risking rejection and ridicule. It means being disliked and being relegated to the unpopular kids’ lunch table. For those of us who spent way too much time at that table in grade school, it’s particularly unpleasant.
But it’s important. Someone has to tell the emperor his new clothes are non-existent. Someone needs to point out the obvious and the not-so-obvious. It’s possible no one will listen to us. And it’s possible we might get pink-slipped as a result of our willingness to say what no one wants to hear. It’s possible we’ll be like Cassandra, accurately predicting doom and gloom without anyone believing us. And then becoming the object of revulsion because we were right. Speaking truth to power often sucks.
So why do we do it? Why does Nell take on the establishment and defy her cult to highlight that they’re going down an ill-advised path? Sometimes we do it because we can no longer stay silent or agreeable. Sometimes, the truth is so powerful that we cannot deny it. For me, it felt like a calling; I was able to see the writing on the wall and withstand the negative consequences of speaking truth to power, so I felt a responsibility to do so. Much of these kinds of truths relate to improving areas where things are deteriorating, or urging repairs when things are broken. Sometimes, the truth involves pushing others to be and do more when they are content to rest on their laurels or don’t want to be bothered to do the right thing because it’s hard, or costly, or just inconvenient.
Reading about Nell inspired me to remember why it’s important to speak truth to power and all the good that it can do. I’ve found a kindred spirit in Nell, and I’ve found more truth in fantasy than can often be found in reality.