Do not tell the truth directly... or you'll go blind


Tell all the Truth but tell it slant -
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind -

- Emily Dickinson (written about 1868)

"Help! I'm disadvantaged, poetry-wise. What does this mean?"

What Emily is trying to say is that you can tell the truth, but you have to tell the truth indirectly, because favorable results come from moving carefully around the truth and not approaching it directly. You can't just blurt it out.

But why can't we just tell the truth?

Because truth is too bright and clear. Humans crave a quicker gratification, but a quick explanation is weak and not as solid as the actual truth.

The truth is elegant, richly adorned and magnificent, the way lightning appears to small children. Lightning can scare children, too, so to be kind to children, we explain to them what lightning is, and free them from being worried and scared about it. Yet maybe we don't explain all about lightning at first. Maybe we tell stories about it - that lightning is "really" sparks made when the Gods are bowling, for instance. Later, we can explain the scientific truth about electricity.

We have to approach truth the same way. Truth must also be revealed gradually, or it will overwhelm and confuse people, make them unable to see, and cause them to become even more ignorant.

Ironically, Emily tells us that to tell the truth, we sometimes have to tell lies. Maybe she thinks we can't explain the science of lightning to really young children, so we must tell them myths and stories.

If she believes that real truth must be revealed gradually, as "kind" explanations that make people happy, how does she feel we must reveal the truth if it will make people unhappy? She feels truth that makes people unhappy must be revealed slowly and carefully. If it's revealed too quickly, people will become more ignorant and farther from the truth than they were before.

A scientific explanation of lightning for kids>>

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