Truth-Telling v. Loyalty Essay

“Honoring the Truth-Teller”
-by Dr. Roger W. Sapp.

Prior to 1993, I was an active duty Army Chaplain. During that season in my life, I taught leadership skills to officers and non commissioned officers in leadership retreats as a part of my ministry.  I often used management games to teach these leaders about leadership.  In one management game called “Powerplay”, a scenario is created where these leaders were arbitrarily divided into groups by virtue of winning in a trading scenario.  The winning group is then given authority over the other groups. The winning group is given the right to make the rules for future trading and to dictate these rules to the other groups. Without exception, the group that has the authority always begins to make rules to keep its authority and to benefit it as a group in trading.  Given enough time the winning group will begin to clearly abuse the other groups.  This group will justify its behavior on the basis of winning the earlier portion of the game and by virtue of having the authority.
Reactions of Different Abused Groups – In those retreats where non-commissioned officers (sergeants) were involved, the sergeants would allow themselves to be abused.  Their overriding value was loyalty to the authority no matter what transpired or how unfairly they were treated. They were unhappy and grumbled among themselves during the abuse but did not do anything productive to deal with it.  They offered no feedback, no confrontation, and no truth from their perspective to the abusive group of sergeants. This was characteristic of nearly all the sergeants that I played this game with.  This revealed that their values were highly loyal but truthfulness was weak as a value. (Of course, there were a few exceptional sergeants that would have been better officers by nature.)   The reactions of the officers in the officer leadership retreats were entirely different.  As the group of officers who abused them became more abusive, the officers became increasingly active and alert to their responsibility to deal with the unfair situation.  They offered feedback that was largely ignored.  They devised strikes; in other words, they withdrew and would not cooperate with the abusive authority.  They often tried to continue to confront the abusive group.  They tried to negotiate a more just situation.  In nearly all cases, the group in authority would become increasingly authoritarian and created more rules strictly for their own benefit and to keep the rebels in line.  The abusive group would often say that the other officer groups were not playing fair when they rebelled, withdrew or failed to cooperate.  In other words, the group with the authority became blind to their abuse and blamed the abused groups for withdrawing and not wanting to play the game anymore. 

Not Valuing Truth Results in Blindness – Blindness is characteristic of organizations and leaders that do not value truthfulness in their relationships.  This is because truth telling has been stifled in a loyalty-based organizations or individuals.  Because there is no honest feedback, they will often be blind to their abusive behavior and honestly wonder why others are reacting.  There will be no-one to tell them that it is wrong to shift the blame for difficulties in the relationships to the victims of their abusive behavior.  The value of truth is what keeps a local church or any organization from becoming like a cult.  Honoring the truth-teller is a characteristic of godly relationships.  Dishonoring the truth-teller is a characteristic of cults. Cultic behavior, which always includes blindness, will result from an overemphasis of loyalty above the truth. Leaders must understand that their own desire for loyalty may overcome truthfulness in their subordinates.  They must actively cultivate truthfulness along with loyalty.  This game also revealed that different kinds of people have different values and expectations.  Commissioned Officers are taught in the military that proper submission means that they will speak to the superior officer with courage and candor (truthfulness) about organizational problems.  Officers who will not confront their commander when necessary are poor excuses for leaders. Commanders who will not hear the honest, truthful input of their subordinates without penalty are poor commanders.  The officer type of leader expects to be treated well by other leaders.  He expects his input to be valued and genuinely considered. The officer type of leader will want to fix the organization’s larger problems and will not ordinarily be silent about them. If the organizational values lean too far to loyalty and not enough on truthfulness, this type of leader will often be seen as not being a team player and be penalized by being privately labeled as such.  As a result the organization may lose this valuable leader.  The sergeant type of leader will remain loyal to a fault.  He will adjust to the  problems and not necessarily ever speak truthfully to the organization. There is nothing wrong with this type of person; in fact, they are greatly needed in all organizations.  However, in unhealthy organizations, the sergeant type of leader is valued above the officer type of leader.  The officer type of person can help an organization to deal with its problems and therefore grow.  If an organization creates an atmosphere for genuine honesty and truthfulness, it will attract many of the officer types of persons and will be able to keep them.  It will not lose its sergeant types either.  In fact, the sergeant type of leader will be much happier since problems will be dealt with. 

When Loyalty Overcomes Truthfulness – Loyalty and truthfulness are two covenant values that must be held in tension against one another.  Loyalty binds us together.  The truth sets us free.  If one value is emphasized over the other, then serious problems develop and both values will become distorted.  If loyalty is overemphasized, then only affirmation will be given and heard as feedback.  If truth telling is practiced without love and without loyalty, it does not build but tears down. If truthfulness is considered a fundamental component of loyalty, then the organization will be built on integrity.  If loyalty is considered a fundamental component of truthfulness, then the organization will have true unity.  Often in an organization, whether it is the local church, a business, a denomination, or a fellowship of churches, loyalty becomes the overriding value and begins to overcome truthfulness.  This is often revealed in private words, actions and attitudes rather than the official position of the organization.  The leaders of an organization may say that they value truthfulness but reveal in their actions that this is not really so.  There are several predictable results when this happens:

Truth-Tellers are Unappreciated –   Individuals who strongly value honesty and truthfulness are unappreciated, and often rejected as disloyal.  Some people are particularly oriented to truthfulness and may be seen as not being team players by those who highly value loyalty.   This may create a value conflict in the organization between the truth-tellers and those who highly prize loyalty.  The loyalty value normally wins over truthfulness in these kinds of situations because those in authority will often value loyalty over truthfulness.  When the loyalty value wins over truth, it often takes the form of a suppression of free expression, particularly dissent.  This does not make the elements of truth in dissent go away; truth will surface again and again in different, even more destructive forms, until it is dealt with properly.  This is precisely why political tyrants are unable to completely silence free expression and why they feel the need to silence it.  The truth will find a way to express itself simply because it is the truth and God stands behind it.  Every time loyalty wins over truthfulness, loyal individuals are unintentionally trained by the leadership to hide the truth or to put an organizational spin on it.  Truthful individuals are trained that they are not really welcome.  Perceptions are created that success and promotion in the organization comes by telling the leadership what they want to hear rather than the truth.  Loyal “yes men” can seem to become valued over those who have strong individual integrity and truthfulness.

Sincere Relationships in the Church –   The concept of sincerity may be the best blend of the values of loyalty and truthfulness.  A sincere person is a person who out of loyalty to God and others speaks the truth without mixture.  The word sincere comes from the Latin word sincerus. It literally means without wax.  This word comes from the time when the Romans were building great buildings using marble columns to support the weight of these monumental buildings.  The builders would go to the marble cutters in the quarries and inspect the columns. The cutters would put wax in the cracks of columns to make them deceptively appear to be solid in order to sell them.  The builders could only use the sincere columns to build with.  The columns that were what they appeared to be, that were actually solid, without wax hiding cracks, were the only thing that would sustain the weight of the building.  If a builder built a building using a column that lacked sincerity, the entire building could fall down.  The parallels are evident. The Spirit of Truth needs sincere people to build the Church; people that value loyalty and truthfulness in harmony with each other.

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