What’s Your Trust Setting?

Cooper: “TARS, what’s your honesty parameter?
TARS: “90%”
Cooper: “90%?”
TARS: “Absolute honesty isn’t always the most diplomatic, nor the safest, form of communication with emotional beings.”


Interstellar has become one of my favorite movies. Don’t let the science fiction part of it get in your way — it’s not about that. It’s about what it means to be human and how to distinguish between saving individuals and saving humanity as a species.

Having a chronic illness is rather like having a secret. How do you go about telling people of your illness? Do you tell them at all?

I saw a posting in a closed IBD group recently where a member was asking for help in how to request accomodations at work without having to get specific about health circumstances. Advice was offered on how to handle the situation discreetly, until another member demanded that the advice seeker should “tell the truth.” “Why would you lie?” the response continued.

Not revealing the whole truth is not the same thing as lying. I was concerned about the helpfulness of this exchange, and I failed to see how it was productive for anyone. I don’t believe any person has the right to question another person’s decision to not disclose a health situation. We don’t owe each other the truth.

When Do You “Tell The Truth” And Why?

What, when, why, and where to talk about an illness is a major topic of conversation in the chronic disease community, and a looming question for the individuals who must navigate this aspect of their lives. How do you communicate your illness and still keep your job, your friends, or your romantic partner?

This topic has recently been in my thoughts as I question truth and honesty, and how they are not the same thing. Yet they’re frequently confused.

The movie “Interstellar,” which I’ve watched more than a few times, has further made me question the ideas of truth and honesty because those are two of the major themes. There are “robots” in the movie that are part artificial intelligence, part scientific tool, part helping hand, and part companion. These machines have settings: a truth setting and a humor setting, for instance. The truth setting for one of these robots isn’t at 100%. And the reason given is that it is not always the best policy to give 100% truth when communicating with emotional beings: namely, humans.

What Is Truth?

There’s a pervailing opinion that telling the truth is always the right thing to do. And it sometimes it is: if you do wrong, you own up to it and take your lumps. But in terms of relationships, truth is not always black and white:  it’s more of a spectrum. Does telling someone the absolute truth always serve their emotional needs? I would say that it doesn’t. Not always.

Sometimes the truth can be painful, and when that is the case, you must decide if the pain is productive. Productive pain helps us grow as people. A truth that produces nothing but pain that serves no purpose is a truth that should possibly stay hidden.

What Is Honesty?

Most people believe in being honest and that it’s a virtue.  But honesty is open to interpretation, such as in the expression “an honest opinion.” Raw honesty is also not always necessary in our relationships, because it can also do more harm than good. We have to learn to apply honesty carefully to our interactions with others, or we might hurt them needlessly.

How Do You Like Your Truth And Your Honesty?

In our relationships with physicians, as it relates to IBD, most of us would probably say we strive for truth and honesty. However, truth and honesty are two-way streets, and it’s probably fair to say that a certain amount of concealment takes place on both sides of that street.

Do you always tell the truth to your physicians? I know I haven’t. Are you always honest? I know I wasn’t. I downplayed symptoms because I didn’t want to spend my senior year of high school in the hospital. It’s hard to say if that was a mistake and if being honest would have changed anything for me. And in that case, if nothing changes, does honesty actually matter?

How Truthful Are You In Your Relationships?

When you’re young, it’s easy to tell people your life story pretty quickly. You grew up in a certain place, you went to certain schools, your parents are alive or dead, you have siblings or not. You can get to know people very quickly because they haven’t lived that long and there’s just not that much to tell.

As I write this, I’m 43. I live in a place far from where I grew up, and anyone I’ve met after 2000 only knows me with a functioning j-pouch. They have no idea of the ulcerative colitis years, unless of course they run my name through a search engine. I don’t open conversations with a viewing of my scars, and the topic of IBD doesn’t often come up in everyday discussions. Only infrequently have I had to correct a person who had serious misunderstandings about what it meant to have IBD.

With the exception of my work that I’ve gotten because of my IBD (and not in spite of it), I never told people in my workplaces about my ulcerative colitis, or later my j-pouch. What would that truth serve? It wouldn’t serve me, not at that time. Would it serve the IBD community in general? Maybe in a small way, but it might also cost me my job and my health insurance, and I might not be able to continue my work as an IBD Advocate. It could prevent me from getting work in the future, putting myself and my family at risk financially.

I was not truthful with romantic partners. Not all of them, anyway. I was honest — I let it be known that I had limits, but I didn’t necessarily explain why. In hindsight these were good decisions, because when I met my husband I knew instinctively that I should tell him the truth and that I should be honest with him about how it would affect my future and his.

Your Truth Setting Is Up To You

Who you share your truth with is up to you. You don’t owe the IBD community anything. Your truth is powerful. Your story has weight. When you take care in who you are honest with, you do yourself a service. You are not obligated, not by anyone, and certainly not by someone in an online support group, to tell people about your health before you’re ready. Because honesty is not always the best policy.

You will know when it is right and when opening up about your truth will elicit that productive pain that will help you grow personally and nurture your relationship with others. Only you can decide how to navigate the spectrum of truth and honesty as it relates to your life.

I know you’ll make the decisions that are right for you.

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