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Searching For Honesty

1 June 2009 No Comment

Often I hear honesty talked about as black or white – either I’m honest or dishonest in what I say. It’s even combined with the common habit of labelling so that people are then classified into honest or dishonest.

Isn’t it a bit trickier than that? Is ‘honesty’ really that straightforward?

Honesty – a core value

I consider honesty one of the core values we all share and strive for – not least with ourselves.

One of my teachers put it something like this:

We’re all searching for our Truth. The problem is we’re surrounded by half-truth, so we put a huge amount of energy simply into trying to separate truth from half-truth. The more honesty we have in our lives, the more we can devote to discovering our Truth.’

I think he meant that ‘searching for our Truth‘ is our quest for understanding our place and our purpose in life, and ‘truth‘ and ‘half-truth‘ are the messages we tell ourselves and others. The more accurate the messages, the clearer becomes our search for meaning.

For me it’s intimately linked with trust. Without honesty, without ‘truth’, it is impossible to build trust. And without trust we can never be sure about ourselves or the people in our lives.

Anyone who has ever been in an intimate relationship knows that one lie can destroy years of building depth and closeness. Anyone who studies the news knows that one lie can destroy a political career. Anyone who has been in business knows that one lie can destroy co-operation.

Honesty and truth are essential qualities in all our relationships.

The value of self censorship

Having said this I also believe self censorship is a key skill.

A couple of years ago I met a guy who’d spent some time in, what he described as, a community based on stream of consciousness. What that meant was that members of the group agreed to reveal everything that passed through them – thoughts, feelings, emotions. If a thought entered his head he spoke it. He said he left the cult community when he started to suspect the founder and leader of using it as a way of seducing women rather than a genuine attempt to learn and foster complete honesty!

As an experiment in understanding and getting control of my thinking this sounds very interesting. But I’m certainly not yet ready for complete honesty. Some of my thoughts are better kept to myself.

For example I was in a hotel elevator a couple of days ago moving from the 5th floor to the ground. The lift stopped at the 4th floor where a women stepped in and pressed the button to take her to the 2nd. The thought that flashed through my head was, “Why don’t you take the stairs, you lazy cow?”

Can you imagine what might have happened if I’d actually said that? If I’d offered this woman a combination of my rather unflattering judgement and a bit of re-education?

If I allowed all of the rubbish that passes through my brain to also pass through my lips I imagine I would have been physically beaten up many times and verbally even more.  Judging from the amount of violence in the world, I somehow doubt I’m the only one who has crazy things in their head. I suspect behind most, if not all, acts of violence sits some such thought.

Maybe one day I’ll be in complete control of my thinking, but until then I’ll continue to exercise a degree of self censorship over my honesty!

Honesty with myself

The value of catching such thoughts is that it gives me a great opportunity to be honest with myself. If I only take them at face value, whether I reveal them or not, I potentially miss the chance to learn something.

Every time I have any judgemental thought is a chance to learn and take a small step towards my own Truth. Thoughts are often superficial and bubble up from some deeper currents within. That surface of thinking could be messages from my emotional world, my belief systems, my core values or my higher self.

In the example above I clearly saw it as a reflection of me and nothing to do with the lift woman. Maybe it was repressed anger surfacing that I’d be wise to have a look at. Maybe it was in that moment I was in a rush  and so was some signal to develop better personal organisation.

Honesty with others

Whenever I ask a question I’m wanting something. Often it is honesty and truth I want:

  • When I want to learn and I’m asking for your feedback to help me with that.

If I ask my wife, ‘What do you think about my latest article?‘ I want to know precisely what she thinks so I can learn and improve. I want her honesty.

  • When I sense something and want to discover what it is.

10 years ago I lost my job. I sensed something was going to happen so I asked my boss to his face, ‘Is my job safe?‘ I truly wanted to know. I wanted to be treated as a responsible adult and respected with the truth. He lied to me.  I wasn’t upset about losing my job, but I was devastated about the lie.

  • When I want to build trust between us

I often ask my wife what’s going on inside her because I want to connect with her. I want to understand and touch more of her inner world. I fully respect if she chooses not to share, but I don’t want her to lie to me.


Do we always want honesty?

Sometimes I want reassurance more than I want honesty, for example, if I’m feeling vulnerable, my self esteem is low and I don’t have the resources myself to bring it back up. If I ask ‘Do you think I’ve lost weight?‘ then I probably only want honesty if the answer is ‘Yes!’ If not, then I’d prefer you exercise some self-censorship!

I have a sense I’ve only scratched the surface here in my search for honesty, and what it means.

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