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Last summer, while my son was at BMX camp, something interesting happened. Something that made me think about truth. And this is a story about truth.

On the last day of camp, the parents received an email from a mother saying some boys were picking on her 6-year-old son.

I immediately asked Jack about this since it would mortify me if he was a perpetrator. Jack explained to me that the 6-year-old boy was misbehaving, and the coach had to put him in time out a few times for throwing rocks and running his bike into other kids.

I reminded Jack what it’s like to be the “young kid;” he’s part of the expert class race team where he is the youngest at 9. It’s hard for a 9-year-old to relate to 15-year-olds and vice versa, and often he comes home complaining about being bullied. He promised he would help this youngster and be a good role model, and I left it at that.

A few hours later, an email from another mom popped into my inbox, and she gently told the mother of this 6-year-old that he hadn’t been kind. Throwing rocks and running his bike into the other kids created frustration, and the coach had to discipline him. She did such a great job relating to this mother, saying, “look, I’ve been there. My kids haven’t told me the whole truth either.” I was impressed with the way she handled it. She pushed back but in a way that still felt inclusive.

A few minutes later, the mother of the 6-year-old replies, thanking the woman for her honesty and asking the coach why he didn’t mention the misbehavior.

The whole exchange was remarkable. Both women handled it exceptionally well. And it made me pause and self-reflect. I speak and write about speaking up, giving feedback, and keeping it real, but I didn’t let this mother know what was really going on at BMX camp, and I didn’t take my advice. Why? Why didn’t I have a story about truth?

After examining my lack of participation, I determined that I was not invested in this woman and her son. I had never met them, and I felt like I had done my part by talking to Jack. But that was a cop-out. If roles were reversed and Jack was misbehaving, I would want to know. I would hope someone would have the courage to keep it real with me. I thought long and hard about investing in relationships, especially with people you hardly know – or don’t know. And I realized that I wasn’t living up to my values. I care deeply about the Durango sports community, my son, and my responsibility as a parent and a leader. I could have done what this brave woman did. But I didn’t. The next time I find myself in a similar situation, I will remember this story and pause to consider my role and make a better decision that aligns with my values.

When it was all said and done, I asked Jack to read the entire email chain and share his thoughts. I asked him, “How do you think the mother of the 6-year-old feels?”

“Embarrassed,” he replied.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because his mom didn’t know that he was misbehaving. He didn’t tell her the truth, and she had to find out from someone else that he started it.”

“Exactly,” I said.

“She probably feels like he manipulated her,” Jack continued.

“Yes,” I said. “Imagine how I would feel if you told me you were getting picked on, but you didn’t own your part in it. Imagine if one of your buddy’s moms told me you were not kind. Would I trust your words in the future?”

“Probably not,” he said.

“And how would that make you feel?” I asked.

“Not good! I would hate it if you didn’t trust me.”

“Words matter, Jack,” I replied. “I will always go to bat for you, I will always help you, but you must tell me the truth. If you manipulate me, I will doubt your story. Always own your part; that’s the most respectful way to show up.”

I wasn’t sure how deeply he understood this, but a few hours later, he said, “Mom, I liked reading that email. Both of those moms were so nice. And now I understand what manipulation means.”

“What does it mean?” I asked.

“When you only tell one side of the story to make yourself look good and make the other person look bad,” he said.

“You nailed it!” I hugged him, proud of his deep thinking on the matter.

I loved this story of truth and accountability.

Later that week, I ran into the mom who pushed back on the youngster’s mom and told her how impressed I was. She shared with me that she had been fretting about it, wishing she hadn’t sent the email. “It was the coach’s responsibility to handle it, and I threw him under the bus,” she said.

“You’re right,” I said, “but he’s barely 20 years old, and he must learn how to handle these situations, too. You taught us a valuable lesson, and I am glad you sent the email. You both handled it beautifully, and I used it to teach Jack about honesty, trust, and manipulation.”

She was grateful I stopped to talk to her about it. Sure, not everyone might feel the way I did about it. It’s possible someone was annoyed by the exchange or wondered why she didn’t mind her own business. Not me. It was just the mirror I needed to see how my indifference didn’t align with my values. And it was a priceless teaching moment for Jack. Again, such a powerful story of truth and accountability.

Which is an excellent segue into my next topic: not believing everything you think. This story is a perfect example of what happens when what you believe t be true turns out to be false.

Have you ever stopped to question your thoughts? Where did this thought come from? Why do I think this way? Is this thought even true?

It’s a powerful moment when you wake up and realize that the way you think might not be the truth. In fact, it’s probably not THE truth.

Here is a perspective for you to ponder; you have thoughts and opinions about my story. You love it, it resonates with you, and you can grab hold of something and act right now. You base these thoughts on your experiences, preferences, judgments, emotions, and most likely your feelings about me as a person and leader, even if you’ve never met me.

Someone else reading this story is having a completely different experience. The reader hates it, thinks I am speaking nonsense, and can’t find anything in it worth trying to implement. They wonder why I waste my time writing

Both experiences feel like the truth to each person, but whose truth is correct? The answer is neither and both.

We live in an age where we tell ourselves that being RIGHT is worth fighting and even killing for and where tolerance, acceptance, compromise, and admitting that you are wrong are signs of weakness. But here’s the kicker: WE ARE NEVER RIGHT BECAUSE THERE IS NO ABSOLUTE RIGHT WAY. There are almost 9 billion people on this Earth, which means there are 9 billion different ways to think about everything there is to be thought about. That’s mind-blowing. If there are 9 billion different ways to think about the thought you just had, how can you be so sure that the way you think is the truth?

Questioning your thoughts is extremely powerful and brings more accurate self-awareness. Yes, it can create discomfort, especially when challenging your belief systems, but eye-opening and life-changing. Not believing that your thoughts are true, that your way is the only way, can lead you to new perspectives, new ways of thinking, to stretch yourself, and most importantly, as a leader, to make better decisions. Not believing everything you think allows you to make room for other people’s ideas and solutions. It cultivates tolerance, acceptance, and compromise. It helps you be a better person, parent, and leader.

You can ask yourself some questions when you feel passionate (okay, defensive) about how you think or feel or when you are judgmental about a person or a situation. I have found that at times, I can detach myself from my thoughts, and sometimes I can’t, but this process always helps me put things into perspective. By asking yourself these questions, you may find that you will be more open, compassionate, and tolerant of others, leading to being more content.

Why do I believe this? Why are my feelings so strong?

What if I believed something different? What would change?

What story am I telling myself about this person or situation? How do I know that story is true? What other stories could also be true?

What assumptions am I making?

What would happen if I just let this thought/feeling go, and it never crossed my mind again? Will anything change?

Is this how I really feel, or is my ego getting in the way?

Why am I judgmental?

What if these thoughts are the truth? Would I do something different?

What is my story of truth and what if I am wrong?

Most of us agree that the world would be better if we weren’t constantly arguing, judging, defending, and warring. If we want to change the world, we must change within first. You can start by being more curious about your thoughts and pausing to consider that belief doesn’t necessarily equate to truth and that it’s okay, even beneficial, that your truth isn’t everyone else’s truth. Your story about truth might be different than someone else’s story of truth. There is goodness in differing opinions.

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  1. Kerry,

    This is one of the best articles I have read in a long long time. I have often told my employees that they should not jump to conclusions when someone comes to them complaining or has an issue, but rather listen, investigate and then respond to the facts surrounding the complaint or issue with compassion, understanding and w willingness to resolve the issue in a professional manner.
    Thanks for the story and your comments.
    (By the way, I wish I would follow my own advice more often!)

  2. Thank Dave! I’m glad you enjoyed the story. You give your employees great advice! And yes, we should all do a better job following our own advice! I am guilt as charged, too!