A word about elephants, transparency and truth.
“I said what I meant, and I meant what I said…
An elephant’s faithful… one-hundred percent!”
— Horton the Elephant, Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hatches The Egg” (1940)
These days, the word “transparency” is trending, but the facts have more angles than one of children’s book author/illustrator Dr. Suess’ beloved characters. In Suess’ book “Horton Hatches The Egg” (1940, Random House), the character Horton the Elephant teaches readers of all ages to be persistent and dedicated, loyal and true, and to simply follow through on what you said you were going to do… fine qualities for a wartime society ripe with spy stories and fierce patriotism.
In other words, Horton the elephant taught readers young and old to simply say what you mean, then allow your actions to speak for themselves. If only that lesson could be as simple today in an era of celebrity fandoms, corporate media giants, and fleeting “facts”.
I’ve had the word “transparency” enter my radar screen a handful of times in the last few weeks, oftentimes raising my spirit. “Of course! Hooray!,” I thought. “Who doesn’t want transparency?” In reality, trust erodes when there is a gaping hole between what you say and what you do.
Truth refers to a body of real things, events, and facts, or “a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality.” I interpret this to mean that truth is factual, immutable and rock solid - as solid as Horton’s steady dedication to carry through on a ridiculous task promise he made, to sit and protect an egg for a lazy bird who wants to fly south for the winter and delegate the task to an elephant. Truth is unchangeable and truth persists.
Transparency is more malleable, shaped by personal experience, culture, race, gender, and so on. Transparency comes from a good place (to be “authentic”) with good intentions, but is altered by your reality. Transparency is truth - but can be evoked conditionally. Truth is always true, but transparency can be called up when it is convenient or prudent to do so. Transparency is simply transparent; allowing light to shine through… but that also indicates there is a filter (nothing is 100 percent transparent). In business terms, transparency is a lack of hidden agendas or conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making. It doesn’t mention that the “full information required” must be complete, or even factually sound or immediately available… just with good intentions. See the difference?
We’ve become a nation of transparency seekers, seeking “OUR” truth instead of “the” truth. Politics, business, religious beliefs are not immutable, and come to us through human lenses (lesson: keep an open mind… why of course Horton could hatch an egg as well as a bird can!). When your actions don’t meet up with the immutable, well-researched facts… trust erodes and fades. In Dr. Seuss’ story, the slacker Mayzie La Bird laughs at Horton’s gullibility while she relaxes West Palm Beach pool instead of protecting her egg in the jungle of Nool. In other words, she was transparent about her willingness to delegate her responsibilities to another, but wasn’t truthful.
Poor Horton the Elephant was ultimately rewarded not by money or fame, but the love of his new elephant-bird offspring… karma usually sorts this stuff out in the end, doesn’t it?
The moral of this story: words and actions need to marry up, like Meghan Markle. Be mindful enough to simply say what you mean, and mean what you say, and follow through… one-hundred percent.