Truth or Consequences

November 12, 2008

Truth or Consequences


Ted Burnett

“You never find yourself until you face the truth.”
– Pearl Bailey

As my fourth grade school year came to an end and let out for the summer my parents were offered the use of a friend’s bay house for a week. This three or four bedroom house stood some ten-feet above solid ground on wooden pilings overlooking Mobile Bay in the waterfront community known as Battles Wharf. One of the bedrooms held several bunk beds and thus I was allowed to invite three friends to join me.

All were classmates and teammates from my Catholic school – Michael, Chris and Robert. We alternated between running inside the house and out, playing board games in the floor, fishing off the pier, paddling a neighbor’s canoe in circles and swimming in the bay, as the days slowly passed by. Taking a break one morning from the hot sun and the brackish water we all retreated to the bedroom to relax. Someone suggested that we play the game “Truth or Consequences.” The sheer thought made me recoil in dread.

The rules of the game were simple. One person gives another participant the option of truthfully answering any question that the questioner could dream up, very often it was personal in nature, or the participant could say “no” and thereby accept the group’s chosen “consequence.” This usually entailed performing a bizarre and often a humiliating trick for the amusement of the other players. Answering the “Truth” generally centered on the subject of girls – confessing our most private and deepest prepubescent thoughts about some of God’s angles in our class. On this topic, I always felt like I was out of my league.

The thought of confronting or facing the truth was like taking on some scary monster from out the movies or the notorious boogeyman. The fear was so intense, petrifying causing my face to turn beet red in embarrassment while putting knots in my stomach. As my turn came around I conjured up all sorts of questions, worst-case scenarios that I didn’t want to be asked much less have an answer pried out of me only to risk losing face to my friends.

Accepting the “truth” option was like playing Russian roulette, but instead of having only one bullet in a six-chamber revolver and spinning it, our game felt more deadly where all six rounds were loaded, the pistol was cocked and ready to fire. With the barrel of the gun put to the temple of one’s head, almost any given answer and you were surely dead.

There was no reward big enough, in my mind, to accept this manly choice and the risk that came with it. I didn’t know what I had to fear or to hide at this young age, but it felt like a lot – too many secrets and a ton of baggage. Like a chicken, I always played it safe and accepted the Consequences. After playing several rounds with these altar boys, I soon learned that their limited minds were quickly tapped out and the stunts became easier and less degrading to perform.

Upon reflection, I was a very fearful and a shamed filled child. I was always quick to take the easy way out rather than face what seemed like more disgrace or the mere risk of it. This constant fear often forced my hand and predetermined my uneasy and awkward reactions. My fear came from the unresolved pain of earlier events, in my young life, which I was still carrying around with me.

Without having the tools for healthy living, I soon shutdown completely, numbing myself of any and all pain – emotionally and spiritually – in order to survive what had become a now terrifying world. I was walking around, but I was hollow on the inside with a large spiritual void. I became an addict, a junkie to almost anything that would temporary fill this hole and elevate my mood.

Today, I understand why so many Americans have turned to “drugs” to check out from life choosing to live in some altered state of consciousness rather than face a painful reality. That was my experience for the first eighteen years of my life. With each passing year, I grew older and a little bigger while celebrating another birthday, but below the skin’s surface I was a bundle of dark emotions and by the end of it I was ready to die. I was in a lot of pain and the fear that I felt inside of me bleed out into my world.

Almost every waking moment of the day was spent determining whether an approaching person, a group of people or a situation was a potential threat or was safe. This daily task consciously dominated my paranoid thoughts and dictated my every move. My spine was severed. I was cut-off from the chest down, from my intuition, from feeling my feelings essential for living a happy and a sane life.

I operated as best as I could from out of my head, but it was a miserable existence. I went to great lengths to avoid facing any further pain even if it cost me every shred of integrity, dignity and sanity. I would lie to myself and to all others including my parents, teachers, friends and my priest. I was in total denial about my life and if you asked me how things were going my impulsive response would be to always say, “Fine.” And to be honest, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, I believed it or at least I wanted to. I have come to learn that there’s a saying about sick people and it equally applies to sick societies as well, “We’re always the last to know.”

As I have written throughout the year, America is a very troubled nation. The latest evidence is the current national home mortgage scandal, the Wall Street meltdown and the knee-jerk reaction by the Bush Administration, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to draft a seven hundred billion dollar plan in just three days to bailout the failing investment banks, AIG and their earlier action in seizing control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This legislation was rushed through Congress and signed off by President George W. Bush. Their reaction looked like some prominent family saving face by quickly rescuing their alcoholic/addict son and his reckless ways under the cover of darkness.

The plain truth of the matter is that these problems were decades in the making and many of the same guilty parties running from their Capitol Hill offices during the 9/11 attacks were looking the other way and gratifying themselves while these fiascos slowly mushroomed into the perfect storm ultimately taking down some of America’s largest mortgage companies, Wall Street’s most renowned investment banks, too many banks and economies around the world. These events are a national disaster and an embarrassment.

As I stated previously, God is the source of truth and wisdom. Our society lacks both. They’re nowhere to be found on either Congress, at the White House or in the media – whose sole purpose it is to report it. They didn’t. How is it that no one in charge saw either one of these crisis coming just like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina or a now pointless Iraq War? This is simply a case of where money and promulgating lies has long been king in America, not God, not the truth or freedom. “Our troubles, are basically, of our own making…”

We now find ourselves feverishly throwing massive amounts of cash around while creating an unimaginable debt in response to another crisis that was preventable. Our once high-flying economy with its opulent, grandiose lifestyle has quickly come to a sputter. Will there be a mandate by Congress, by the American people for an investigation into this systemic failure? Will Congress voluntarily put themselves under the microscope and the scrutiny of an independent counsel with the subpoena power of a secret grand jury and the threat of criminal prosecution?

We (U.S. taxpayers) continue to bailout this alcoholic child (reckless elected officials, American corporations and Wall Street firms) rather than let him face the consequences of his poor actions. We are stepping in to bail him out of jail, repair his wrecked car and giving him some more money so he can get back onto his feet while looking for another job. These pricey lessons aren’t being learned by anyone. Both, the child and the parents avoid, at all cost, feeling the pain and suffering to everyone’s detriment – their sanity.

Once more, the parents enable their wayward child onward to one day, some day repeat these same mistakes. In this dynamic, both, the parents and the child never have to grow up – emotionally or spiritually. Until the roles change, until their dance comes to an end the cycle is destined to be repeated. America is an absolute mess. We have lost all integrity, dignity and our sanity; we are mentally ill. It’s time for our country to take the hit, to face the truth and to feel the consequences in order to grow – whatever the cost may be. The living do it, but the dead don’t or won’t.

“There is a price which is too great to pay for peace, and that price can be put in one word. One cannot pay the price of self-respect.”
– Woodrow Wilson, the twenty-eighth U.S. President


I am available for speaking, consulting and political advising. My other essays can be viewed at my blog @ I can be contacted by email:

Copyright © 2008, 2010. All Rights Reserved. “Truth or Consequences” by Ted Burnett.

 Ted Burnett: I'm an American thought leader and pioneer on the subjects of human, organizational and societal development and health. I write about the role that integrity, dignity, sanity play, as well as, on the topics of spirituality, faith, freedom, happiness, problem solving and risk taking. I produce and deliver original, world-class commentaries on business, political, social and spiritual matters to a global audience of world leaders, chief executives and key decision makers, top faculty and notables in the fields of academia, banking, business, foundations, government (including heads of state, lawmakers and governors), healthcare, media, non-profits and policy institutes. Website: