Advertising
Advertising

Can You Be Truly Honest?

Can You Be Truly Honest?

20090909-pinnochio

    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?

    Advertising

    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”.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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!).

    Advertising

    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.

    More by this author

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works) Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion How to Become an Expert (And Spot out One Nearby) Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed Back to Basics: Your Calendar

    Trending in Communication

    1 20 Things People Regret the Most Before They Die 2 How to Deal with Anger (The Ultimate Anger Management Guide) 3 10 Websites To Learn Something New In 30 Minutes A Day 4 7 Most Difficult Languages In The World to Learn For English Speakers 5 6 Ways to Be a Successful Risk Taker and Take More Chances

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on June 23, 2019

    20 Things People Regret the Most Before They Die

    20 Things People Regret the Most Before They Die

    Close your eyes and imagine that you’re at your own funeral—a bit morbid I know, but there’s a reason for it. Now think about what you’d like people to say about you. What kind of a life do you want to lead? People die with all kinds of regrets. Don’t be one of them.

    1. I wish I’d cared less about what other people think.

    It’s only when you realise how little other people are really thinking of you (in a negative sense) that you realise how much time you spent caring and wasting energy worrying about this.

    2. I wish I had accomplished more.

    You don’t have to have won an Oscar, built up a business or run a marathon, but having small personal accomplishments is important.

    3. I wish I had told __ how I truly felt.

    Even if the “one” doesn’t exist, telling someone how you truly feel will always save you from that gut wrenching”but what if…” feeling that could linger for life if you stay quiet.

    Advertising

    4. I wish I had stood up for myself more.

    Sometimes, it’s too easy to think that if you go all out to please everyone you’ll be liked more or your partner won’t run off with anyone else. I think age probably teaches us to be nice but not at the expense of our own happiness.

    5. I wish I had followed my passion in life.

    It’s so easy to be seduced by a stable salary, a solid routine and a comfortable life, but at what expense?

    6. I wish our last conversation hadn’t been an argument.

    Life is short, and you never really know when the last time you speak to someone you love will be. It’s these moments that really stay clear in peoples’ minds.

    7. I wish I had let my children grow up to be who they wanted to be.

    The realisation that love, compassion and empathy are so much more important than clashes in values or belief systems can hit home hard.

    Advertising

    8. I wish I had lived more in the moment.

    Watching children grow up makes you realise how short-lived and precious time really is, and as we age, many of us live less and less in the present.

    9. I wish I had worked less.

    There’s always a desire to have loosened up a bit more with this one and the realisation that financial success or career accomplishment doesn’t necessarily equal a fulfilled life.

    10. I wish I had traveled more.

    It can be done at any age, with kids or not but many talk themselves out of it for all kinds of reasons such as lack of money, mortgage, children, etc. When there’s a regret, you know it could have been possible at some stage.

    11. I wish I had trusted my gut rather than listening to everyone else.

    Making your own decisions and feeling confident in the decisions you make gives us fulfilment and joy from life. Going against your gut only breeds resentment and bitterness.

    Advertising

    12. I wish I’d taken better care of myself.

    Premature health problems or ageing always makes you wonder if you’d eaten healthier, exercised more and been less stressed, would you be where you are today?

    13. I wish I’d taken more risks.

    Everyone has their own idea of what’s risky, but you know when you’re living too much in your comfort zone. In hindsight, some people feel they missed out on a lot of adventure life has to offer.

    14. I wish I’d had more time.

    Many people say time speeds up as we age. The six weeks of summer holidays we had as kids certainly seemed to last a lifetime. If time speeds up, then it’s even more important to make the most of every moment.

    15. I wish I hadn’t worried so much.

    If you’ve ever kept a diary and looked back, you’ll probably wonder why you ever got so worked up over X.

    Advertising

    16. I wish I’d appreciated ___ more.

    The consequences of taking people for granted are always hard to deal with.

    17. I wish I’d spent more time with my family.

    Some people get caught up with work, move to other parts of the world, grow old with grudges against family members only to realise their priorities were in the wrong place.

    18. I wish I hadn’t taken myself so seriously.

    Life is just more fun when you can laugh at yourself.

    19. I wish I’d done more for other people.

    Doing things for others just makes life more meaningful.

    20. I wish I could have felt happier.

    The realisation that happiness is a state of mind that you can control sometimes doesn’t occur to people until it’s too late.

    Read Next