Seeking Truth, Compassion, and Usefulness

I was reminded what Ursula K Le Guin – a hero of mine – had on her desk when Seth Godin referred to it in one of his daily blogs:

Is it true?
Is it necessary or at least useful?
Is it compassionate or at least unharmful?

Her novels were labelled science fiction. They were captivating to me and many others. And they contained lessons on how to live with yourself and others no matter when or where you landed, including here on Earth, today.

We need that, especially today. There isn’t a community I’m involved with who isn’t experiencing contention, mistrust, and pain.

I have no idea what inspired Godin to recall it that day, but I do know that every time I’m reminded of it, I want to pass it on.

Is it true? There is so much we accept as true – on social media, from internet searches, from friends, or even from people we don’t know if what they’re saying happens to agree with what we think, or want to believe. If we accept what was said or stated without seriously trying to find out the truth, often by going to the source and then checking out alternative sources, then we are also accepting that we aren’t that concerned about the truth in that case. I find that interesting when it happens to me – and begin to wonder why I personally want something to be true rather than know if it is true. Have I negatively judged someone and want to amas seeming evidence against that person, for my own edification and sense of rightness? Have I developed a grudge against that person? Do I feel hurt or unseen and want to lash out? I’m guilty of these and more. Most of us are at some time.

Is it necessary or at least useful? Do I need to know this ‘truth’? how does it impact my life and that of my community if it was true? Sometimes, when I hear something, that’s the first thing I ask myself, because if it isn’t necessary for me to know, or useful in knowing, then I don’t go further. It’s really not my business.

Is it compassionate or at least unharmful? I have ended up being wrong in my judgments and conclusions many times. And so I consciously try not to take action on what I believe to be true if I feel it will harm someone.

Some time ago, for instance, I had to decide whether or not to fire someone who was really difficult. I had the power to do it, but I looked at the possible impact of firing this person and decided to try other approaches before doing that. Was it truly necessary to humiliate the person by firing them? How might it impact the others in this group to see someone fired? Ultimately, I felt it would do more harm than otherwise, and found a different way to deal with it. I did this after discussing the issue with a number of senior people who I know felt the same way I did about doing harm. As a result, I felt at ease with my choice, even though it wasn’t easy or an easy situation to continue to work with.

Because the world is in such turmoil these days, I find myself yearning for people in their respective communities to begin to give the benefit of the doubt, to feel some compassion, before judging. And to endeavour to do no harm.

The youtube video below is a tribute to LeGuin from Margaret Atwood. In it, she mentions one of my most cherished stories written by Le Guin titled The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. So relevant to us all today.

I wonder what the outcome might be if this were something taken up by our political and community leaders more often than it currently is. I can witness it in some, like Joe Biden for instance, and hope he and others like him prove to be an examples for the rest of us.


To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.

Quote of the Week

To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.”

– Ursula K LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness


Tribute to Ursula K Le Guin – Margaret Atwood


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