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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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    Last Updated on December 3, 2019

    10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

    10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

    There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

    Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

    1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

    Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

    There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

    Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

    2. Pace Yourself

    Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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    Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

    Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

    3. You Can’t Please Everyone

    “I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

    You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

    Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

    4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

    Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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    We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

    Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

    5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

    “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

    No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

    We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

    6. It’s Not All About You

    You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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    It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

    7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

    No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

    We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

    Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

    8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

    That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

    Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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    Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

    9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

    Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

    The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

    10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

    We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

    When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

    Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

    This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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    Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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