Once, many years ago, I was asked by a reporter if I had ever lied for the company I then worked for. Most of my career has been spent in public affairs or public relations, and given what many think of as public relations, the question was understandable.
I could truthfully answer no. I had not then, nor have I ever, lied for a company I worked for or a client I’ve represented. First, my faith says it’s not an option. Second are the general ethical considerations. And third, the fact is that your credibility and reputation are all you have when you’re in PR. Blow that once, and you’ve blown it forever. And the field is littered with examples.
What the reporter didn’t ask, however, was if I had ever been asked to lie. Now that would have been an interesting, and complicated, answer. No one has ever asked me to "Please lie about this." But I have heard "Don't bring that up," "There's a problem there," "Tell them not to ask that question," or some other variation. I've never been directly asked to lie, but I have been asked not to tell the story -- the whole story.
This week, I was reminded of that reporter’s question so many years ago when I was reading Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. She has a chapter on honesty in writing, and while she never mentions public relations, the same principles apply.
“The emotional courage of an artist counts for a lot with me,” she writes. “I can live with the rough edges, with an occasional wince as something cuts too close to the bone. What I do not want to live with is writing that is false, slick, or processed like the faux marble that is used to tone up nouveau riche hotels.
“There is something about the truth – like something about a great plain pine table – that has a beauty and clarity that shine for me beyond the frequent artifice of High Art.”
When I write – no matter if it’s for work or for myself – I’m mostly concerned with telling the story. Readers (or listeners, if it’s a speech) can usually tell whether a story is true or not – and I mean “true” in the sense of resonating with human experience. People may or may not know if a story is factually correct, but they usually know if it’s true to what they know and understand.
A good example of this is the stories told by Billy Coffey. I read his stories, and I can’t tell you they are factually correct, because I don’t personally know the people he writes about. But I can tell you that his stories are profoundly true, because I recognize them from what I know and understand about people. Billy doesn’t write like “faux marble;” he writes like that great plain pine table, straight from the heart.
That, to me, is what honesty is writing is about. It’s not only the story you’re trying to tell. It’s also telling it true, from the heart, allowing it to tell itself.
Over at the High Calling Blogs, Laura Boggess is leading a discussion of Cameron’s The Right to Write. Take a look and see what others are saying, commenting and posting. Last week’s discussion was about credibility, place and happiness. This week’s discussion is about making it, honesty and vulnerability.
No Matter What by Nancy Kourmoulis.
Cassandra Frear's The Edge of Glory.
Sandal-Walls by Monica Sharman.
Jessica McGuire's Pink Elephant.