Legal Commentary by Monte Vines

The Value of Truth

George Washington - Mt. Rushmore
Photo credit: ConspiracyofHappiness

Truth is a deeply-embedded value in our society.  The value of truth is reflected in some of our classic phrases.  Superman fought for “truth, justice and the American way.”  Witnesses are sworn “to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”  The Declaration of Independence, stating the basic values of our society, asserted that “we hold these truths to be self-evident.”  “Veritas,” Latin for truth, is the motto of Harvard and other educational institutions.  We are taught by our parents at a young age to “tell the truth,” and legend has it that George Washington, as a boy, confessed to chopping down a cherry tree, saying “I cannot tell a lie.”  Even when it is shouted with disdain that “You can’t handle the truth!,” it turns out that we can, and we are better off for it.

So it should be no surprise that dealing with truth is a critical aspect of resolving legal disputes. If the parties can get to the point that they both understand the truth about the facts of their dispute, they have taken a big step toward an agreed resolution.  Getting to that point is easier said than done, for getting the facts right can be a challenge for everyone.  But aside from the value of getting past the hurdle of misunderstandings about the facts, if one party believes the other is intentionally misrepresenting the facts they will typically have a deep distrust of that person.  And that makes it very difficult for the parties to constructively work toward a good resolution. 

Good resolutions of legal disputes rarely appear out of nowhere.  They are typically the result of constructive engagement between the parties, allowing them to work through the issues involved to find an acceptable resolution.  If they have some level of trust and respect between them, that is much easier to accomplish.

So use the truth to your advantage in working through legal disputes.  Recognize its importance to your adversary, and demonstrate to them that it is important to you too.  Stand up for it, even if there are some facts that you are not proud of.  Owning up to any mistakes you have made that contributed to the dispute can go a long way toward generating trust and respect for you in your adversary, and a willingness to work through the issues with you to a good resolution.

Haven’t you read that “the truth shall set you free?”  It’s a phrase that can also be applied to helping you resolve a legal dispute with your adversary.  Using the truth well in a legal dispute can indeed help set you free from it.


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