Honesty: NOT the Best Policy
Dave Van Ronk
Honesty may be one of the most misunderstood values we humans hold dear. While an outright lie or deceitfulness is certainly no way to live (and may even wind you up in jail ala Enron), all too often we use honesty to avoid the hard work of handling a difficult situation with finesse and intelligence.
“I’m just being honest!” is said after a coworker is obviously hurt by a blunt and unedited comment. But this response always holds a double-edge sword: it hurts the person AND allows the sender to feel like a good person all in one comment. Pretty tempting.
Usually these “honesty at all times no matter what” types are angry and judgmental people who have been taught that they can play judge and jury with full permission by simply labeling their hatefulness as “honesty.” And many stand before them, stunned and hurt, scratching their heads wondering what’s wrong with them that they aren’t receptive to this “honesty” stuff that’s supposed to be so hard to come by.
The social reality is that our lower, base, and (usually) private thoughts should be kept in a safe place: our own minds. People must learn that telling social ‘white lies’ and therefore editing their ugly and unkind thoughts is a necessary component to our socialization. And as an added bonus: it keeps people from slugging each other.
How often do you think you tell a lie or at least a half-truth on a daily basis? Twice a day? Five times a day? More? I’d say maybe ten times that.
Answer these questions as you normally would. Then answer them HONESTLY.
“How are you today?”
And so it goes. We lie all day. The first time my son said, “That lady is fat!” at the ripe old age of three, I immediately taught him that the right thing to do was to lie (or at least to withhold his true feelings and perceptions until we got into the car). And don’t even get me started on the Santa issue.
So we lie and we avoid and we squirm to avoid this thing called honesty. People who do not filter their every thought will find themselves in a much bigger dilemma than someone who tells the socially acceptable lie. It’s really a matter or which you hold MORE dear: honesty or kindness.
But can’t these two traits live in harmony? Yes. Honesty CAN be kind. But it is rare person that can put these two together. More often honesty is just a way to judge someone for not being like you, thinking like you, acting like you. What you are saying is, ‘If you were more like me, I wouldn’t judge you. But you are like YOU and I don’t like it.” We won’t (or can’t) take the extra effort to find the words within us to show the compassion that will help someone progress in a way that doesn’t insult their current choices.
It can be done, but there is a deep work involved in creating statements that reflect kindness and truth.
“Kindness and honesty can only be expected from the strong,” said Mother Theresa.
Most of us just aren’t there yet.
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