Virtually all creatures living on Earth communicate with one another. It is evident today that animals communicate with one another at every level of development. Moreover, animals are able to think (though possibly not the way we do), feel, experience joy and fear, be empathic, and become attached to one another and to humans. We have often heard about distressed elephants which return to the place where a member of their herd died, cover its remains with leaves and keep vigil. No one keeps elephants at home, but dogs, cats and other pets are frequent members of our families.
The scientific discoveries of the last few years have proved that plants also represent an intelligent form of life: they behave altruistically and “think.” Surely, a plant does not have a brain but, as Prof. Stanisław Karpiński says, constitutes a network of intelligent connections and can be an analogue of the brain. For example, plants warn one another of an approaching fire or other dangers. Prof. Karpiński gives the example of the African acacia trees which have thorns and leaves that provide rich food for giraffes. “An acacia attacked by an eater sends chemical signals to its sisters after 20–30 minutes indicating that it has been crippled by an intruder and that something wrong happens. A whole cocktail of hormones is released and spread through the atmosphere so that other trees know that something bad has happened and that they may get injured.”
Importantly, the communication systems of the non-human world, i.e. the world of animals and plants, are solely based on truth. No dog or cat would ever think of pretending to love someone just to gain some benefit from the relationship, for example. And if they do not like someone, it is better not to approach them.
In the human world, everything seems to be out of order. Humans are masters of deception. Not only can they pretend to love or be loyal to others, but they are also very good at lying to themselves. Actually, they sometimes end up believing their own lies. I would venture to say that the more developed the level of communication, the less truth and the more manipulation. Only children up to the age of about 4 are truly “genuine.” Children do not understand why they should speak or behave an insincere way. They are entirely honest saying: “I don’t like you, auntie.” Their parents usually try to save the day then. They explain to their children that it is not a good thing to say like that because it makes the auntie feel bad (even though she may not deserve to be liked at all). We are born trusting and untainted by falsehood. And then we are immersed in the educational process at home and at school.
Aristotle’s Metaphysics defines truth in the following way: “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.”
Now, let’s see how it works. Suppose the head of a company has made a decision that has caused serious losses. One of the employees dared to tell him that his lack of education and preparation negatively affected his management decisions. Will the boss thank his employee for the remark and begin to further his education? Or maybe the employee will decide to look for a new job? The boss may be aware of his shortcomings. But he did not want to hear that, and certainly not from his employee.
Now imagine hundreds of other cases from our professional, private and even intimate lives. Is it easy for us to tell someone a negative truth? Would we want to hear someone else say that to us?
We are usually very reluctant to know the negative truth. We repress the truth in various ways, rationalise it, deny it, or even express feelings opposite to what we really feel (the so-called reaction formation), even in health issues and our relationships. How many times we have heard someone say, “I don’t want to know.” Research shows that we prefer living in unhappy relationships to breaking up and starting a new life. Divorce is considered by psychologists to be one of the most stressful situations in our lives, following death of a loved one, job loss and bankruptcy. We are ready to sacrifice our own fulfilment and stay in an unhappy relationship just to have a SENSE of security. This is because we tend to see security as a possibly uncomfortable yet familiar situation.
In his book “Awaken the Giant Within,” Anthony Robbins shows that the ultimate reason for all human actions is to avoid pain (unpleasantness, disappointment, suffering) and to experience pleasure (security, sense of worth, satiety). All our lives are always in between these two states, irrespective of the consequences and truth. This is why we drown our sorrows, take drugs or, in less serious situations, binge on chocolate to give the brain a substitute for pleasure and escape from painful reality.
The true intentions of plants and animals are always clear, whether they communicate to warn one another, act together or attack. In the world of humans, everything is different in this respect. If in danger or fear for their own safety or interests, people can not only turn their backs on others, but even act to their detriment, in many cases to the detriment of their family or friends. This is obviously a general statement, but, based on ancient and recent history, these trends have been proven many times in individual and collective terms.
The conclusion is that what helps animals and plants to survive exposes humans to a sense of insecurity. We have even sayings which seem to confirm this belief: “Out of sight, out of mind,” “Real friends tell you the ugly truth, not pretty lies,” “When the truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.”
As Schopenhauer said, “all truth passes through three stages; first, it is ridiculed; second, it is violently opposed; third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
The truth is often unpleasant resulting in different types of pain, from existential to physical. Maybe it is because human beings are the only beings who are aware of the meaning, or lack of meaning, of life, passing and death. We know that our life is transient even though we do not think about it every day. We find it more comfortable to lie to ourselves that we are going to heaven, although it is clear that we are buried in the earth. This is the most unpleasant truth. We prefer a different truth, without asking unnecessary questions and denying anything. However, sometimes, we seek confirmation. For example, when we see a “fresh paint” warning, most of us check with our finger whether it is true. Going to heaven, on the other hand, does not raise any doubts in us.
In our culture, honesty and truthfulness are virtues. However, it takes a lot of courage to tell the truth to yourself and others.