When one considers the great speakers, writers, and poets of our time, Lil Wayne never makes the list. Nor should he. The man is not particularly lyrically talented, and relies on wordplay to make his songs interesting. Yet this line from Lil Wayne has immense meaning for our lives: “I speak the truth, but I guess that’s a foreign language to y’all.” If only it weren’t.
Of all the languages in the world, it is most important to be fluent in truth. But like a student in an EaSL class, we rarely absorb this lesson unless it is taught from birth. The importance of honesty cannot be overstated, but I will explain why it is so vitally important to be blunt and speak only the truth. This is not to say that hurting others’ feelings is acceptable, but we must learn to accept the truth and spread it to the world.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s groundbreaking book, The Outliers, you’ll find a chapter on plane crashes and how they relate to culture. To save you 30 pages of reading, I’ll sum it up: countries with cultures that are more blunt have fewer plane crashes, without exception. This research is based on the PDI (possibly my favorite statistical measure ever), or Power Distance Index. This is a measure of how often an employee will withhold their opinion or advice from someone above them in the chain of command. High power index countries tend to be more respectful, reserved, and subtle. The highest PDI countries are Malaysia, Panama, Guatemala, the Philippines, and Mexico. They share the fact that their cultures are reserved and place high value on respecting those in authority. The countries with the lowest PDI are Austria, Israel, Denmark, New Zealand, and Ireland. The bluntness of people from these countries may seem disarming to some.
Back to plane crashes. The reason PDI is used to analyze crashes is that many audio logs show that pilots and copilots don’t communicate properly, especially those from high PDI countries. This, as one could imagine, is because the copilots don’t feel comfortable telling the pilots how to do their job. In countries like Austria, copilots are less worried about bruising their superiors’ ego. If something is going wrong, and the pilot doesn’t notice it, the copilot speaks up. In the countries with high PDI, copilots have to passively and subtly suggest that there is a problem. This poor communication results in more accidents.
Being honest clearly saves lives. It is proven that holding back opinions or being passive can be physically detrimental to those around you. In addition, we can see that this seems to be culturally based. Cultures that value honesty over hierarchy don’t have this problem.
So taking a chance and saying what needs to be said is good for the world. This isn’t to say that it’s fine to slander, offend, and defame others, but if something is important, you damn well better say it, or you’re doing yourself and the world a disservice.
“I speak the truth, but I guess that’s a foreign language to y’all.” It is hard to learn a foreign cultural language. There are classes all over the world teaching Spanish, English, and Mandarin, but it’s not as common to find people learning Latino, Anglo, and Oriental culture. So when Lil Wayne says that truth is a foreign language, he is being quite accurate.
Obviously, we can’t fly to another country and change their values and customs, but we can change our own. We can create a culture where lying by omission, guilty bystanding, and passive aggression have no place. We can build a language that speaks the truth.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.