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Can You Be Truly Honest?

Can You Be Truly Honest?

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    Honesty, we say, is the best policy. And yet, it’s hardly news to anyone that in much of our lives, dishonesty rules. Salespeople lie about the benefits of one product over another, or about how useful those “extended service plans” really are. Partners lie about whether they liked dinner, or about what they did last night after work. Employees lie about the reason a project is overdue, or about how much money is in the register. Customer service people lie about what your warranty covers, or about how reliable their products are. And of course politicians lie about… the color of the sky and the existence of stones.

    We look down on dishonesty, but we do it all the time. We all know that “little white lies” are a kind of social lubricant, making everything run that much more smoothly. Why have a fight with your spouse over an outfit when it’s so much easier to just say “you look great, honey”? Why make a friend feel buyer’s remorse over their new car purchase by telling them all the terrible things you’ve read about it’s reliability?

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    It’s hard to be completely honest. And yet, I wonder if we don’t let ourselves get so deep into the habit of saying things that are convenient rather than true that we lose sight of the truth in every area of our lives? And whether in losing the ability to be truthful for the sake of being truthful, we don’t lose a little bit of ourselves?

    What is honesty?

    On the surface, honesty is a fairly simple thing: the accurate representation of the way the world is, at least from your perspective. This is easy enough to comprehend when you’re stating a fact: “the sky is blue” is either true or false; honesty means saying the true thing. It’s slightly less clear when talking about opinions: “the babaganoush is tasty” is not true or false in any absolute sense – it is only true in relation to the taste of the person reporting on it. In this case, honesty means declaring your actual opinion – even though to another person, it might be wrong.

    But beyond the dictionary sense of what the word itself means, there’s the way that being honest acts in the world. Honesty isn’t just a word, it’s a characteristic of an act, behavior, or personality. It’s the difference, for example, between an “honest living” and a dishonest one – the criminal might not tell a single lie in the course of his or her day, but we wouldn’t necessarily call him or her “honest”.

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    As a way of being and doing in the world, honesty is about trust – it’s about convincing others that we are to be trusted, and it’s about trusting others to be able to deal with the truth as we report it. Consider some of the situations that might lead us to be dishonest:

    • We want something from someone, and have nothing to offer in return.
    • We are afraid we’ll be punished for something.
    • We are afraid we’ll hurt someone’s feelings.
    • We don’t want someone to think badly of us.
    • We don’t want someone to do better than us.
    • We are protecting someone.
    • We are protecting ourselves.
    • We are protecting other people’s image of ourselves.
    • We are protecting our own image of ourselves.
    • We dislike someone.

    These are all purposely vague, and possibly overlapping depending on particular situations. The point isn’t to catalogue every possible reason for lying, but to demonstrate that most often, dishonesty is provoked by fear and danger.

    Thus, the salesperson lies because he is afraid of losing a sale. The significant other lies because she is afraid of hurting his or her partner’s feelings (and thus possibly losing the partner himself). The employee lies because she is afraid of getting fired, or of getting arrested. The spouse lies because he is afraid of breaking up his marriage. The student lies because she is afraid of failing a class. The criminal lies because he is afraid of being arrested, or of calling down revenge on himself. The doctor lies because she is afraid the patient will sue her (and she could possibly lose her license). The politician lies because he dislikes everyone – and because he is afraid of losing the next election.

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    Think of all the times you might have been dishonest, even just a little, even just by telling a little white lie? What were you afraid of?

    How does it feel to live in fear? How does it feel to give in to it?

    Fear and Loathing on Life’s Path

    I said before that honesty is about trust. When we are dishonest with people, it is because we fear something. We fear that being honest will allow them to hurt us in some way, or we fear that being honest will hurt them in some way (and that, in turn, would hurt us – after all, we have no problem honestly listing the faults of people we dislike!).

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    Ultimately, honesty makes us vulnerable, and dishonesty protects us. But at what cost? Every dishonesty is an admission that we don’t trust the person we’re lying to – we don’t trust them not to hurt us, and we don’t trust to trust us enough to know we don’t intend to hurt them. Either way, a lie says you think little of the person you’re lying to. It may not say it out loud – most of the time we lie because we are reasonably certain the other person will never find out the truth – but even if they don’t know, we know. Can you really think highly of a person you don’t trust?

    That’s harsh, I know, and I’m not necessarily advocating we give up every tiny white lie and less-than-full-disclosure; more, I’m suggesting that we think good and hard before allowing ourselves even the smallest dishonesty, lest it become a habit – not just a habit in the sense of the way we act, but a habit in the way we see other people, especially those close to us.

    This applies especially to the lies we tell ourselves. If dishonesty stems from a lack of trust, what does it mean when we lie to ourselves? And how much damage does it do us in the long run to not trust our own feelings, our own actions, our own being? Most of the time we know when we’re lying to ourselves – we see the truth behind our own actions and we excuse or justify that truth away.

    Can you be truly honest? Do you have what it takes to approach the world full of trust? Not stupidly or naively – you don’t have to tell your social security number to everyone who asks. although you don’t have to lie about why you won’t disclose it, either – just honestly. And if you could be totally honest, at least with the people who matter most in your life, what would change? Would it be better or worse? Finally, if you could be totally honest with your own self, would you be happier or sadder? I think these questions are worth examining – honestly.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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