Absolute statements compel absolutely

Single pawn clearly placed on black and white chessboard

“I always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” I wish I could confidently say these words, but sadly I cannot. In the United States, we ask witnesses in court to speak nothing but the truth, at least just in the courtroom. Yet, we know even then the truth doesn’t always come out. Disappointing, for sure, and many of us accept this as the way things are. How compelling would someone be, though, if he humbly stated the opening line as a simple matter of fact?

Humor me, and try saying the following statements out loud.

  • I run 5 miles outdoors every Tuesday, rain or shine.
  • 100% of eligible voters in my town votes in every election.
  • Every citizen in my country eats three good meals each day.

Even if these statements may not be true right now, can you feel the power in them, should they become true?

Absolute, objective statements are beautiful in their directness and simplicity. Their appeal comes from being black and white, without ambiguity, leaving no room for exceptions or caveats. In the professional realm, I find myself frequently qualifying statements with conditions or massaging a message before delivering it to the intended audience. And yet, “the project is on time,” or “we’re within budget,” that’s all I truly long to say every time I’m asked.

So when I hear a rare absolute statement, my ears perk up immediately and the speaker holds my undivided attention.

I unexpectedly received one such statement recently, while discussing two social issues I’d thought were pervasive and culturally difficult to eradicate: homelessness and hunger. Marcel was my partner in conversation, someone I’d encountered only on the internet. In one message, I asked him bluntly how people in his religious faith deal with these problems. Marcel replied equally bluntly, “No brother or sister goes without food or shelter anywhere.

I was so surprised with disbelief, I repeated my question in a different form, using a hypothetical scenario. Marcel shared links and more information as a means of explanation, but most notable was another simple statement, “You will need to find that out for yourself to believe it.”

Marcel isn’t a member of a small, obscure cult. He is part of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a worldwide organization that counts over eight million people among its ranks. 8,000,000 people, more than the entire population of Massachusetts, just shy of the 2015 population estimate of New York City. And Marcel claimed that all of these people — rich and poor — have food and shelter, unconditionally.

I was — am — astonished, and I feel compelled to find out more. This is the power of an absolute statement, exercised on me.

In my late teens, I’d mostly cut the habit of lying. In my twenties, I started to embrace the idea of honesty as a lifestyle. And now in my thirties, I’m turning a corner in pushing myself, to see just how honest, how completely honest I can be. I suspect and hope this honesty, as it translates into more absolute statements I can make about myself, my work, my relationships, will help me win the influence I need for my long-term goals.

This story is but my own reflection on absolute statements. If you have one to tell of how an absolute statement left an impression on you, I’d love to hear it.