The rude awakening

On honesty as an act of love.

Brady Santoro

April 26, 2024

Dear editors, 

If we love our children, it is imperative that we tell them the truth.

Truth-telling, like loving, is an act of unobstructed honesty, or as Parmenides puts it, of unconcealment. Parmenides’ truth is perfect, “immovable,” “uncreated,” “indivisible,” and “indestructible.” From such characteristics, the truth is “complete on every side,” complete in and of itself while “reaching out” and bringing completion to those without it. 

We are thus given a choice by Parmenides: we can “go astray from the truth” and so pass into a “dark night” of which there is no escape, or we can profess the truth. Avoiding the truth, he writes, is like digging a hole to hide in that is both too deep for one to be found and yet too deep to crawl out. Its labors are not only dangerous but also needless; the truth is not only easier but more beneficial to tell. 

Our imagined worlds are a pale imitation of the real one around us. Wrought by human hands, they ring hollow and toneless in comparison to the unpretended one, for they will inevitably come into conflict. 

For Parmenides, the truth is without end, unsurpassable by any finite creation, and when worldly concealments falter and fall apart, the juxtaposition is grave. Apelles, the great Greek artist, could trick his viewers into believing his paintings were real life, but only until they tried to brush the painted flies away, and so they left, galled by the illusion. Similarly, if the Buddha or St. Francis of Assisi had not grown up insulated from the hazards of reality, perhaps then they would not have dashed off, repulsed and naked, to starve in the woods after their dissonant encounters with the rest of the world. The contrast between the expected and the real never provokes a positive reaction, but the extent of such a contrast significantly impacts the final reaction. If the whole universe seems discordant, then a stronger, more painful corrective action, like the Buddha’s, occurs commensurate to the whiplash that caused it. If the universe is in line with our expectations, however, there is nothing to recoil against and our lives continue unmarred.

Thus we should not spare our children the truth, for they are certain to discover it in its boundlessness, whether we tell it to them or not. There is naturally a temptation to conceal from children the imperfections of reality, but the world cannot be kept hidden forever. The blow of being suddenly confronted with the truth is far greater than that which one faces when one is taught of suffering. There is no love in the discovery of reality, only the transformation of the real into a cathartic, completed whole. 

Instead, the day of reckoning and its half-formed reckoners can be averted by picking the uncomplicated path: honesty. The truth bears no baggage or consequence, but artifice, like the hole, inevitably does. As such, in caring for children, we must tell them the truth and not let them lose sight of reality. A failure to do so causes them unneeded harm when they bear witness, coming out of the “dark night,” to the instability of having fictions for a foundation. Anything less than honesty is irresponsible and uncompassionate—for the children, tell the truth. 

Honestly, 

Brady Santoro

Brady Santoro is a first-year undergraduate at the University of Chicago studying philosophy and religious studies.