Honestly!

Where is there dignity unless there is Honesty?  — Cicero

Today I’m parading Honesty around the block, free for the taking – a gift for December.  Does it cost to be honest?  There definitely are consequences to being honest.  Integrity, for instance, but sometimes something much more harsh.  Here’s a Socrates Cafe question: is it ever morally defensible to tell a lie?  Here’s a Biblical philosophical question: what is truth?  (For 3 pieces of cheese, tell me who asked this question to whom?  For all the cheese in Wisconsin, tell me why that person never answered?!) *n.b. – My father used to play a game with us that we called “Bible Questions for Cheese”.  He would quiz us on our Biblical knowledge after dinner and reward us with bites from his cheese platter as he finished off his bottle of wine.

Which kind of honesty is the most difficult for you and why?  Telling yourself the truth about yourself, telling someone else the truth about yourself, telling yourself the truth about another, or telling your truth about another to that other?

Self-deception can be pretty intractable.  How do you even know that you’re not telling yourself the truth about yourself?  Do you have to depend on someone else telling you the truth about you?  How would someone else even know the truth about you?  I suppose I approach this by going the second route first.  I try telling someone else the truth about myself to see if they can believe it’s the truth.  This would seem like madness to some people.  Why are look looking outside yourself?  Why wouldn’t you trust yourself to know yourself?  How could anyone else know you better?  I have heard quoted many times, “Lean not on your own understanding”, and I suppose I took that to heart.  So now, I’m working on trying to be honest with myself and to trust myself.  This takes some courage and a lot of forgiveness.

Telling the truth about myself to others is something that I want to do.  It saves me the trouble of having to come up with a lie.  It allows me to get that feedback I need to find out if I’m deceiving myself.  But sometimes, I detect that TMI reaction.  Too Much Information divulged to your own offspring, for example, is not at all welcome.  Especially when they’re young.  I’ve done that a few times.  More often, I told them the truth about things, facts, at an early age that others did not think was appropriate.  For example, I told them that Santa is fictional.  I told them names of body parts.  (My oldest was 4, I think, when she gave a word for the letter ‘V’ that rather shocked her nursery school teacher.)  I told them that their father had coronary artery disease.  (Again, my oldest could draw an anatomically correct heart from memory at the age of 6.)

Ducks can walk on water. It's the truth!

Telling myself the truth about another has been difficult only on a few occasions that I recall.  Telling myself that my father was not God and was not perfect was one.  Telling myself that my husband was dying was another.  However, in those situations, the truth was very valuable, and the difficulty was well worth it.  I guess that means I defend more delusions about myself than about those whom I love.  I believe that shattering delusions about myself will be similarly painful but beneficial, so I’m willing to keep at that.

Telling ‘your’ truth about another to that other is what Steve likes doing the most in relationships.  He calls it “being challenging” or “being intense”, and he considers it a supreme act of love.  And he does it kindly, in my opinion, but more importantly, he is conscious of trying to do it kindly.  It isn’t always received that way, though.   Sometimes, no matter how tactful and kind you try to be, that ‘other’ is not going to want to hear your truth.  Hopefully, that reaction is only temporary.  Getting to the point of engaging with truth in a relationship is an important step to intimacy.  It’s what being ‘truly loving’ is all about.   It takes grace to invite someone to that point in a way that is non-threatening.  I appreciate therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists everywhere who take up that practice in the name of love.

14 thoughts on “Honestly!

  1. Is “your truth about another” ever really about the other? Isn’t “your truth” really only about you? I have to look at that things that way in order to to get anywhere near that conversation.

    “what is truth?” It all depends on what the meaning of “is” is. (For another bite of cheese, who said that? No bible needed.) All I know is that truth likes to hide and I don’t like to divulge my secrets. Couples counseling was a miserable waste of time & money until I relented a little on my stubborn reluctance to tell my truth to others. That doesn’t mean I don’t fall into the TMI trap, especially with my kids. My desire to protect them with information is stronger than my shame.

    To my credit, telling my truth to myself is my modus operandi. That doesn’t mean that I can’t delude myself, but when I do, it is either utter conscious denial or a matter of internal debate. When I turn my skill at playing devil’s advocate on myself, there is nowhere I can hide. The feedback I get from another tells me about myself, but usually it isn’t anything I don’t already know and haven’t been over hundreds of times within myself. As a matter of fact, in order to receive feedback for what it is, I have to look at what it is telling me about the other. (Note the implied assumption that feedback is negative. By itself, it is. I have a knack for taking praise for granted or turning it into a wolf in sheep’s clothing. As part of an expression of another’s attention on me, it can go either way.)

    The beauty of true intimacy with another is when that person can elicit what I have hidden from myself or shows me a new perspective on what I know that changes my perception of it. It sounds as if that is what Steve wants to do with you. How fortunate you are!

    • Definitely agree with ‘your truth’ being about you and the other person’s truth being about the other person. That’s where it starts. Beyond that, it may get to be a bit about the opposite other, but seldom in the larger portion. Steve is really good at helping me understand that. So, when he’s in a mood and I’m immediately feeling ashamed, afraid and angry because I figure it’s my fault, he reminds me: the truth is I’m in a mood and it’s about me, not about you.

      • Yikes! That’s when it gets rough. (Time to channel a little Tina Turner.) He’s in a mood, maybe feeling intense or challenging, and he tells you his truth about you. You feel ashamed, afraid & angry when you assume it is your fault. This is when your truth about you comes in very handy. If you can give that instead of or along with your emotional reaction, then he can have information that may change his perspective. DWR reminds me of this all the time and it does help me to open up.

  2. To be honest (har har), I’m not that good at any of these flavors of honesty. My task for the past almost-a-year-now of therapy has been to recognize that I have access to truths about myself, rather than needing to construct them in response to what others consider to be the truth about me.I’ve passively accepted a lot of “truths” — irresponsible, irrational, difficult, sinful, foolish. I’ve kept a lot of my own truths to myself just because I didn’t feel like having to prove them.

    I remember an argument I had with Emily during a long car ride with you and Steve– to whom do I “owe” honesty? She was arguing that being pleasant and aloof, rather than authentic, was a sin against oneself, and I was arguing that I am not obligated to present my truths for judgment in situations where it didn’t matter to me if the other party had an accurate understanding of my inner workings. I don’t think either of us is necessarily more right, but I take issue, I think, with the blanket elevation of honesty as synonymous with morality. Is there a difference between telling the truth about facts and “telling your truth about another to that other?” If someone tells you their truth about you, are you then obligated to rearrange your perception of yourself to recognize that “truth?” I don’t see this ever being a problem with Steve, but a lot of self-indulgent and vindictive unkindness has been aired under the guise of “just being honest.” Sometimes, as the Dude says in The Big Lebowski, “You’re not WRONG, Walter, you’re just an asshole.”

    • Okay, now that I’ve read some of the comments on other entries dealing with speaking-your-truth-about-another-to-that-other (henceforth SYTAATTO for the sake of brevity) I think I might have been a huge jerk just now :D. I tend to interpret SYTAATTO as an act of control (“you are too much this thing, and you need to be this other thing so that we can put up with you!”), but the examples given in previous comments are all acts of connection, which I realize I sorely want (both in the sense of ‘desire’ and ‘lack’.) Fitting that it took a gentle reminder that I come off as “a bit distant” to remind me of the trouble I have recognizing and communicating the truth about myself :D.

      • And Steve adds that the morality of honesty isn’t about being “right” or “wrong” but about practicing integrity. And therapists might use that term, being “integrated”, to describe a personality that is of whole cloth, if you will. Therefore, you’re on that same track when you say that SYTAATTO isn’t about controlling, it’s an act of connection and encouraging integrity.

    • Good Socrates Cafe question in there about honesty being synonymous with morality… I’ll have to remember that for our January meeting. I do remember that car ride home from Midway airport…

    • “She was arguing that being pleasant and aloof, rather than authentic, was a sin against oneself”

      I was in a Socrates Cafe-like discussion that got onto the topic of authenticity when I said that I hated the term “authentic” as applied to behavior. I explained that my truth requires me to behave differently in different situations, and in some situations it is true to my nature to be aloof and pleasant rather than expressive. Like you, I don’t always care what other people think. After I said that, the person who brought up the topic said that I was one of the most authentic people she knows. Go figure.

      I think the sin against myself comes when I don’t share my truth but I do want to be understood. I am guilty of that way too often, but I come by that coping mechanism honestly. When it is my way to be reserved, I must actually go against something that is true for me in order to communicate with another. Authenticity then becomes a paradox.

  3. Pingback: Advent Day #18 – Honesty | scillagrace

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