The Paradox of Male Honesty

Joel Stein, Amanda Marcotte, Tom Miller, Dan Barrett and Todd Mauldin in a Socratic Roundtable about Honesty.

What started out as an email exchange between me and a buddy (Todd Mauldin) on what it means to be honest as a guy turned into a debate including a Slate Columnist (Amanda Marcotte), a Time correspondent (Joel Stein), a psychology professor (Dan Barrett), a photojournalist and a male columnist on a women’s relationship site (Tom Miller).

You can answer all these questions yourself in the comment section, but these folks might give you a good place to start.

MB=My Buddy (Todd Mauldin)
DB=Dan Barrett
JS= Joel Stein
AM= Amanda Marcotte
TM=Thomas Miller
PJ=Photojournalist

♦◊♦

What does it mean to be faithful in love?

“I have no idea, I guess [it means] to do what you say you’ll do. I don’t think it means fidelity, just an ability to cherish someone and live up to your agreements/arrangements with them. And to be loyal to them.” PJ

“A faithful man will take painstaking efforts to avoid doing things that will humiliate or endanger his wife or girlfriend.” TM

“The most important thing is not to exploit the fact that women are socialized to be accommodating, but instead treating a woman with the same attentiveness and graciousness you’d want for yourself.” AM

“Do your damnedest to make the relationship work. We often forget that relationships need to be continually fostered and nurtured. Being faithful means lots of things (e.g., no cheating, etc.), but it also entails following through on the commitment to make the daily effort to show love, communicate, and move forward together.” DB

♦◊♦

How do you try to be true to your best self?

“When you wake up in the morning, you know what your capabilities are and what your fears are. You work towards your truest potential and tamp down the fears every day.” PJ

“Try to stifle all those social messages that define masculinity by callousness and cruelty. Spend more time thinking about yourself as a person than as a man.” AM

“At times (more often than I’d like) I need to pause and remind myself of my values and priorities. Usually I have a gut feeling of discomfort that leads me toward self-reflection.” DB

“Pray. Then, what I hate, I try to not do to my neighbor.” MB

♦◊♦

Are we a nation of men being dishonest about fundamental truths?

“I think so.  We are, to some degree, a nation of men that have gotten lazy, both physically and intellectually.  I hear men blaming others all the time—blaming their wives, the politicians, their children’s teachers. This entails a certain dishonesty about the fundamentals.” PJ

“People in general are dishonest about fundamental truths. It may be that men and women differ in their dishonesty, but I’m not sure. We are both captives of gender stereotypes and gendered expectations.” DB

“There’s a lot of blindness to the double standards for men and women and how deeply they run, and a lot of it is dishonesty. Men see everything from the way women are judged more by their looks than men are, and how men get effusive praise for things women are just expected to do (like keep a clean home or take care of children) but there’s very little discussion or resistance.  Believing these things are inevitable or even fair is a widespread act of dishonesty.” AM

♦◊♦

Is radical honesty that helps strangers but hurts loved ones worth it?

“I would tell you that radical honesty is a way to use an extra word to say ‘rudeness.’ I think repression is wildly underrated.” JS

“Brutal honesty isn’t worth it. Strangers have their guard up. People that love us may wear armor, but it leaves their most vital organs uncovered. The chance to puncture a metaphorical kidney is too great with that kind of roughhousing.” TM

“There’s a difference, to me, between radical honesty, and ridiculous honesty. There’s some shit some people need to know and others don’t. Some shit needs to be said, some shit doesn’t.” MB

♦◊♦

Why do men so often lie when the truth would work just as well?

“Some men want to see how close to the edge they can get. There is a thrill in getting away with things and I think many revel in that thrill—of telling and lie and watching as others go away, the deceit taken as gospel.” PJ

“It’s so much easier. The truth always leads to more questions.” JS

“It’s about control, and feeling entitled to control others. Casually lying to people is a way of saying, ‘I deserve to know the truth, but I also deserve to have the power to keep you from knowing it.’”  AM

“Control. Lack of trust in others, the situation, or God.” MB

♦◊♦

If a good man is an honest man, does a good man never lie?

“It takes a lot of courage never to lie, even if it is just by omission.” PJ

“A good man is honest, but a good man lies, when it’s truly not for himself but for others.” JS

“Lying for survival, lying to someone whose abusive behavior means they are no longer entitled to the truth, and white social lies all seem fine to me. It’s when you lie to get someone to make decisions that are against their own best interest where it gets screwed up.” AM

“Perhaps we will always lie.  The dilemma that we face is that we don’t realize our lies until after the fact, upon reflection or when someone bravely calls us on them. So we may be telling the truth in the moment, but only later grasp the duplicity. Given the inherent incompleteness of our being/psyche, lying is part and parcel of our humanity. I am probably lying now, as I write this (as are the other men responding to your questions). I haven’t yet realized which statements are lies and which are truths. Later I will have insight into at least a portion of the lies. Of course, if I can convince myself that we cannot help but lie, then am I really just excusing myself for my lies? Is this another ruse, another con?” DB

♦◊♦

Is silence a lie?

“I sure hope not. An executive above me has a serious drug problem and needs help. I’ve been keeping quiet about it. Others, more senior than me, know all about it. But I’m keeping quiet because I’m concerned that making noise will affect my career. Am I lying? I hope not, but I suspect so.” PJ

“In every sense, it can do as much or more damage than a lie. It can also be a saving grace for someone else. Me, I consider keeping silent or keeping a silence to be a deliberate act, but it’s distinct from a lie. A lie, I think, intends to mislead, and a silence simply allows someone to mislead themselves or make decisions based on incomplete information.” MB

“Yes. But sometimes an acceptable one. Truth telling can be selfish.” JS

“It can be, especially if you’re concealing something someone else really needs to know in order to make good decisions for themselves. If you’re cheating, and just not happening to mention it, that’s a lie.” AM

♦◊♦

Is love a compromise of conflicting truths?

“How many times do we hear that we should ‘want’ to do something that is inherently distasteful to us? We fake interest, we fake laughter, and we fake orgasms.” TM

“I’m wary of anyone who starts to indulge this kind of talk. I just suspect they have truths that need telling, but they don’t want to tell them and are making excuses.” AM

“I don’t know. But you’re halfway to a really bad acoustic jam.” JS

“Life is a compromise of conflicting truths. Love is just one domain, and frequently the most painful space in which to attempt clarification and reconciliation.” DB

♦◊♦

Does love require a kind of truth-telling which is always painful?

“I think if you find a mate that is good for you, there should not be that much pain involved. The pain comes when you are at fundamental odds with the one you love.” PJ

“Yes. Our weaknesses and shames bring us closer. Someone’s gotta get naked first if we’re gonna make this baby.” TM

“No. The truth telling can actually feel pretty good!” DB

“It’s one thing to wound somebody for their ‘own good.’ That’s not love. It’s entirely a different thing to tend to the wound you make with your judgment (or perspective if you prefer, or even ‘truth’) and nurse somebody back to health, even if the wound doesn’t heal up right, or even if the patient dies… hanging in there, no matter the outcome. That’s love. And its another thing to know when and when not injure with the truth. That’s kindness. And it’s even ANOTHER thing to know whether you should or should not. That’s compassion. It’s more nuanced, in my opinion ,than these binary options you have listed. Resist this bilateral thinking is my advice.” MB

“I think that it’s relatively easy to keep a relationship simple enough that you can be generally honest all the time. One rule of thumb is to mind your own business. If someone else’s choices and habits don’t directly impact you, err on the side of butting out, and they won’t feel compelled to lie to you so much. The more you get to have an existence outside of the relationship, the less you feel the need to put on a charade inside it.” AM

♦◊♦

Is it okay to embellish for the sake of a good story?

“As a person who sometimes writes his own stories for a living, and who sees other writers embellish, I’d say it’s very wrong to do it and not tell people you are.” JS

“Exaggeration and hyperbole have legitimate applications. You just gotta learn when and when not to use them.” MB

“No, and I get irritated when people do this (unless they acknowledge it during the story telling).” DB

“Of course, and it’s important for people who are being entertained by a good story not to be tedious literalists about it.” AM

“Not if you’re a journalist.” PJ

♦◊♦

Does reality TV really happen?

“It’s bullshit. It’s the culture equivalent of eating one’s young.” MB

“Well, I’ve watched it, so I feel that’s one data point. We should gather some more and figure out the testing protocol.” AM

“How can you have any semblance of reality when there is a boom mic operator and a cameraman following your every move.” PJ

“Of course not.  It is inherently unreality tv. The thing to remember, though, is that we are all pretending and we all live in unreality to a lesser or greater extent. Reality tv lets people pretend that they are not pretending by serving as a spectacle that helps us avoid self-reflection (and possibly prevents it). I never watch reality tv—I don’t have the stomach for it. But almost never watch any tv as I killed my cable and have no tv reception.” DB

♦◊♦

How do you do no harm when the truth is immensely painful?

“That’s what I’m trying to deal with right now. You’re going to do harm; you’re going to hurt your partner. The more you wait and try to softpedal it…well, you usually just make it worse.” PJ

“You don’t. You’re always doing harm. Man up.” JS

“Unavoidable. In truth the ‘pain’ is sometimes the truth that needs to be told.” DB

“Craig Furgeson put it well recently. He says: ‘Ask yourself: 1. Does this need to be said? 2. Does this need to be said by me? 3. Does this need to be said by me, right NOW?’ He says it took him three marriages to figure that one out. Again, if the answer to all three of those isn’t ‘yes,’ then I’d say you could give it a pass. Or as I say, absent advice to the contrary, do the kindest thing you can for THEM.” MB

♦◊♦

How do you tell a woman she is beautiful just frequently enough with sufficient variety that she believes you?

“If you believe it, it’s easy. Small, physical gestures are a good bet.” TM

“I do not believe that it ever gets tired, no matter how uncreative.” JS

“Shit man, you tell me! My ongoing experiment of almost 30 years leads me to believe there’s no actual answer to this.” MB

“It helps to avoid generic compliments, but actually notice real details about her. It also helps to learn to truly appreciate the huge amount of work women put into looking good, work that often takes far more effort than men put into it. If you take that for granted and just simply issue blanket compliments, it feels to women who do all this work like you feel when you’ve spent a week building someone and someone looks at it and says, ‘Yeah, good job, how ‘bout them Cubs?’” AM

♦◊♦

Is it possible to be the same man at work and at home, with the guys and with your spouse? Or is some amount of play-acting necessary to survive in the modern world?

“It’s not possible or necessary. I act differently with my boys than I do with a partner, different with the guys I ride motorcycles with than I do with the office guys.” PJ

“The idea that we’re some immutable black box that we can access and spit out results seems insane to me. We’re different depending on our circumstances. If you were the same person to your parents, your friends and your wife you’d be a psycho loser.” JS

“I think that the most important work men can do in our sexist world is to try to be the same man around men and around women. So many of our social problems stem from homosocial pressure on men to ‘prove’ themselves to other men by doing hateful things to women and then to conceal this behavior from women because they know it’s shameful. If you’re laughing at sexist jokes with your bros, it’s really time to do an intense evaluation of how weak you are, and grow a spine. The same pressure that allows men to act out sexism to impress each other leads, in more serious situations, to men cover for other men when they do things like cheat and even rape.” AM

“Google Plus is a metaphor for my life. The best you can hope for is to not be a complete fraud when you swing from circle to circle. It’s largely a matter of expectations: my family would not like the drunken loudmouth who had just given a 5,000-word ode to left-handed masturbation. My coworkers would be a little spooked if they met the version of me exists only when Clemson loses a football game. And it’s no one’s goddamned business what kind of nude lightsaber moves I do when I have the place to myself.” TM

“The tricky part is not hiding my ugly parts. Most everybody gets to see my ugly parts, and I’m amazed at the capacity everybody has for forgiveness. I find it really encouraging. The hard part I find is forgiving myself for having these ugly parts. I’ll never be able to fix my fundamental design flaw, and it drives me crazy sometimes.” MB

“As Goffmann suggested many years ago, we are always play-acting to some extent. Unless we move out to a cabin and are completely isolated (like the unibomber), play-acting is the only way to develop and maintain smooth social relations. The thing to remember is that play-acting IS part of who we are. We need it. Perhaps that is one of the fundamental truths that we are dishonest about. Who would we be without it?” DB

♦◊♦

What are the things that it’s okay to lie to your kids (or kids in general) about?

“It’s important to mix lies in with truths that you tell your children and challenge them to figure out which ones are lies and which ones are the truth, and then praise them effusively for calling bullshit on lies you’ve told that they’ve debunked through logic.  This is how you learn to challenge authority and instead embrace skepticism and empiricism. Santa is a good place to start.” AM

“I’m wrestling with Santa Claus. That seems so messed up to me. But denying your kid something that every other kids has, that’s not so nice either. That’s a pretty good answer, in fact, to most of your questions.” JS

“One of my big failings is telling my kids “I’ll be right there,” when they want me to come play, and then finding myself still on the computer an hour later going “oh shit, sorry kids.”  Not telling that kind of lie I certainly see as a growth area for me.  I should either say “yes” and go, or “no” and stay put.  Either way would be more ethically correct.” MB

“Suicidal thoughts/actions, harmful things that we have done.  At some point we have to unmask the lies.  The dilemma is knowing when that is okay to reveal these ugly truths, and ultimately more beneficial than harmful.”  DB

♦◊♦

What does it mean to live with integrity in a non-verbal way?

“Don’t puff out your chest.” DB

“Humans evolved language centers precisely because non-verbal communication is inadequate.” AM

♦◊♦

Are feelings facts?

“Feelings are the essential facts of life. We can pretend that they are not, but that stance itself is a product of feeling.” DB

“No, but feelings aren’t ‘wrong,’ either, and I think it’s good for men to think long and hard about how our culture tends to prestige male feelings over female feelings. And remind themselves of this when arguing with wives.” AM

♦◊♦

Is the truth always more powerful than a lie?

“Truths are lies at another level.” DB

“My father has dementia. He has a tough time understanding anything. If I tell him that he’s fading, and point out all the stuff he doesn’t remember and can’t do for himself anymore, and that he’s going to end up in a nursing facility someday fairly soon, he gets agitated, fights with me, gets sneaky, refuses to go to doctor appointments, does all kinds of unsound things that put him in peril. If I tell him everything is okay, and he can live at home until he dies, he’s quiet as a lamb most times, cooperates with doctors, takes his medicine, etc. If my objective is protecting my father from harm, which is more effective… the truth, or the lie? Then again, who knows if I’m lying when I say he can live at home until he dies? I’m not in charge of who lives and who dies.” MB

“Lies are way more powerful than the truth, which is why Republicans just keep winning elections despite a deep pile of evidence that they’re out to turn this country into a banana republic in an ever-lasting war. See: global warming.” AM

♦◊♦

Photo amelungc/Flickr

On Honesty:

The Paradox of Male Honesty

Tom Matlack hosts a Socratic Roundtable on Honesty with Joel Stein, Amanda Marcotte, Tom Miller, Dan Barrett and Todd Mauldin.

Ask an Honest Question, get an Honest Answer

Cameron Conaway’s fiancee asks him “How often do other women give you a bone?”

Honesty. Yeah, That’s an Action Word, Too.

When it comes to honesty, Lisa Hickey would rather ignore words and focus on actions.

The Curse of the Reformed Liar

A poem by Jack Varnell

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.

Comments

  1. Transhuman says:

    Are feelings facts – no but some people treat them as such, this it is worth understanding their effect upon people. Whether men should display their feelings really depends upon the situation, for example anger is rarely well received even when non-violent, however it is worth learning non-verbal displays of feelings so you better understand the second part of the conversation. Feelings can also be an excellent warning system and it is better, I believe, to learn when to take heed of an emotional warning rather than try to push the envelope.

    • Dan Barrett says:

      I finally got back to this thread. I should explain what I meant by “feelings are facts.” A feeling is a fact in that it is real. At least the significant ones need to be dealt with, which requires first acknowledging their existence and then acting on them. Acting can include anything from confirming their legitimacy to realizing that they are, for example, misplaced or inappropriate, to attempting to change them into something more palatable, measured, or appropriate. One of the fundamental challenges for men is to acknowledge the factual nature of feelings. We too often pretend that they are not real, can be ignored, and don’t affect us. We can’t divorce feelings from reason, because feelings are fundamentally reasoned (there are reasons for them), even if we don’t like the feelings, the underlying reasons, etc.

      • Transhuman says:

        Feelings exist, but calling them “facts” blurs the discussion. I’ve been in debates with people of various sociopolitical beliefs and they have asserted “I feel this is true….” That is not an accurate use of the word of feelings nor of truth or facts. I agree, feelings are essential to being human and should be acknowledged as real. However, just because we emotively want something to be true, doesn’t mean it is.

        Let me use a personal example – I am atheist; I would feel greatly reassured, safe and loved if I could believe in a god, any god, even several gods. However, wanting to feel safe and loved is not a proof, it is an emotional desire thus I am still atheist. I do not deny my feelings but I do not accord them the status of facts.

        • Reificator says:

          Yep. I told this to a girl I was dating and she tried to convert me to Catholicism. S’weird, sometimes, being an atheist. It’s a pretty fundamental part of your perspective, but most people would rather not hear about it.

          I wouldn’t mention in an interview or personal statement, for example, the ways in which my lack of belief in deities and afterlives has informed my desire to go into medicine. It feels dishonest and wrong, but there’s a tremendous incentive to be as conservative as possible when applying to medical schools.

  2. These are really great questions and some of the answers were thought-provoking, but I would be interesting in seeing more extended responses and interaction between the responders. And seeing less of AM turning a discussion about honesty into a discussion of male privilege. No, the most important part of being a faithful man is not remembering that your wife was socialized to be agreeable. It’s being faithful. Now, yes, if your wife was so screwed up by her upbringing that she cannot be honest or stand up to you then — more important than society’s ills — you should be worrying about why you intimidate her into silence, and fix that. But if she’s a normal adult capable of speaking for herself, then this is just silly. Let’s not even get into the irrelevant political tangent at the end.

    Kudos on the broad range of questions, from story-telling to play-acting to painful truths. And I liked the point about how people who claim they’re just being honest are usually just being rude.

    • It’s intellectually dishonest to argue that one can separate discussions of privilege from discussions of honesty. Since we were provoked to be honest, I was honest about this. I realize that it makes some people uncomfortable, but that was the challenge. Having your statements be accepted as truth regardless of empirical facts or conflicting narratives is a function of privilege. Defining what is true and what is not is a function of privilege. If men want to be honest, they must begin by questioning their privilege. Any other starting point is….a lie.

      • Amanda — How is it intellectually dishonest to argue that the two are separate questions? You might disagree with me, but that doesn’t make me dishonest to think so.

        I simply do not see how telling the truth, loyalty, not cheating, and not stealing are not the primary functions — and proper starting points — of honesty. To say someone is honest is not an assessment of their entire character. Privileged men who are cowards can be extremely honest. Oppressed men who will fearlessly risk themselves for others can be dishonest. I’ve seen these and other variations in the men I know. And I say this just to say that honesty is one facet of a man’s character. I would argue that knowing one’s own privilege is a question of ignorance rather than one of honesty. If you’ve always lived in a privileged bubble, it can often appear invisible to you and you don’t have to be willfully ignorant not to see it.

        • And, for the record, I have perfectly true statements I make challenged as false all the time. I highly doubt that when I’m making a false statement, no one will speak up.

        • Interesting that the comments (mostly male) skew so heavily towards criticizing the only woman in the discussion. As a woman, I identified with Ms. Marcotte. Arguing the various interpretations of “male privilege” comes across as petty and defensive, and dismissive of the much broader intent of the debate. I would expect a woman’s perspective to be treated with respect, considering the venue.

          On the other hand, I found Dan Barrett’s responses particularly insightful and… honest.

          • “Arguing the various interpretations of “male privilege” comes across as petty and defensive, and dismissive of the much broader intent of the debate.”

            That may be because your a woman and hold the expectation that it’s validity is held above any other position. However respect is not always defined by silence and head nodding. I challenge you to carry out the same “broader intent” of questions in review of the female character with the same balance of responding gender. Place on the panel one man who is equally critical of “female privilege” as Ms. Marcote is of “male privilege” and we shall see the feminist female hypocrisy for what it is.

            “I would expect a woman’s perspective to be treated with respect, considering the venue.”
            Respect against any notion you may feel you are privileged to is earned not awarded.

          • Interesting that the comments (mostly male) skew so heavily towards criticizing the only woman in the discussion. As a woman, I identified with Ms. Marcotte. Arguing the various interpretations of “male privilege” comes across as petty and defensive, and dismissive of the much broader intent of the debate. I would expect a woman’s perspective to be treated with respect, considering the venue.
            Considering how the concept is so deeply ingrained in a lot of the critique of what’s wrong with men and by extension society in general I don’t think its that petty at all. As for the respect when did respect become synonymous with “do not question”?

            And as for why people are being critical of AM is it a matter of AM being a woman or is it because AM is AM (as in knowing her track record in the gender debate)? Would Lisa Hickey, Quiet Riot Girl, Jessica Valenti, Amy Alkon, etc….garner the same reactions?

      • “Having your statements be accepted as truth regardless of empirical facts or conflicting narratives is a function of privilege. Defining what is true and what is not is a function of privilege.”

        Wow your honesty is breathtaking, even intellectual. Do you think you could deliver that truth to your feminist sisters or is it more important to define your intellectual honesty hypocritically. Is this the old do as I say but not as I do?

      • I’m perplexed by the idea that you can’t discuss honesty without talking about privilege. I don’t think our society condones dishonesty in men or women. I don’t think there’s a double standard about lying.

        There have certainly been and still are times when men’s opinions are given more weight. There has also been a long history of men’s perspectives being the ones that are written about and validated. These are good issues for men and women to think about, but I don’t see the connection to honesty per se.

        • I don't know says:

          I think our society demands dishonesty in both men and women!

        • Jon Jay Obermark says:

          There is a huge difference between how men and women lie, and how much. And the reason seems obvious to me as a Quaker.

          Men are consistently morally undermined on purpose, in my opinion. It is impossible to be truthful and conduct a war. Deception is a necessary strategic skill.

          Unless you think about war and conflict as much as you think about work and sex, you are giving women all the credit, and you can never see their privilege, which is to retain humanity to a much higher degree.

    • Rick I don’t mean to sound harsh but in a discussion about how to interact with the opposite sex you dismiss the only female on the panel without asking why she has that opinion. That seems to play exactly into what she was talking about.

      • Chris, I thought for awhile about what you wrote. I certainly disagreed with what she wrote, just as she said that I was intellectually dishonest for disagreeing with her. I wasn’t trying to be dismissive; rather, I’m very familiar with discussions of privilege and female socialization. That’s why I think that these important conversations should be had elsewhere. Male privilege does not define every aspect of our society or our relationships, and I think it’s pretty unfair of AM to argue that I must assume every woman is near-crippled to speak up for herself before I interact with her. I just can’t imagine how a world where we treat every woman like she’s not really able to express her opinion would be better.

        • Tom Matlack says:

          I am the one who asked the questions here and, conveniently, didn’t have to answer. I guess I wonder how we are defining “privilege” in this context? Are we talking about wealth or are we talking about male’s being the privileged gender? I probably have more sympathy for an argument around the idea that wealth, or lack thereof, colors just about every kind of “truth” you can discuss. But I really wasn’t talking about that explicitly here. What I was attempting to get at is the ways in which men view truth-telling in its many meanings, and frankly the idea that there is one black and white version of what it means to be truthful (and what is “real” and what is “good”) is silly. Truth and reality and goodness do have meaning, but they are in the context of a human life whether male or female. These are all some of the best people I know and they sure didn’t agree on much in this realm. Sometime they made me laugh out loud because I’d ask a question and they would come out exactly opposite in response. And knowing them they are both, they are all, “right”.

          • I believe that it was Ms Marcote that introduced the word “privilege” in her response. After reading her comment regarding it I’m left to believe that her own sense of privilege enable her to portray a position of hypocrisy. Although I don’t disagree with her definition I find it comical and disappointing that one could understand (which I assume she does) her statement and project it onto others without any personal accountability for it’s application. In most cases I believe the definition for such intellectual sophistry is “hypocrite”.

          • Tom, that was why I challenged some of Amanda’s comments (though, to be fair, I agreed strongly with many of them as well). I really didn’t think this was a discussion of male privilege. Perhaps if you do an “On Honesty” series, Amanda could write an article regarding the intersection of privilege and honesty? That seems like a better place than here, where privilege seemed to be shoehorned into the discussion.

        • John Wheaties says:

          I’d love to introduce Amanda Marcotte to any of the women in my extended family. Not one of them has trouble expressing their opinions, and in fact one is rarely in ignorance of their views on almost any topic you could name.

          • John, I thought this exact same thing. I come from a very traditional, conservative family, and the women in my family are still quite outspoken (at least in accordance with their personalities)…and are encouraged to be.

      • That seems to play exactly into what she was talking about.
        That would only hold true if Rick were questioning AM based on AM being a woman rather than what AM said. The fact that AM doesn’t grant her some sort of immunity to having her words questioned. If anything that would play right into what AM said a few comments above, ” Having your statements be accepted as truth regardless of empirical facts or conflicting narratives is a function of privilege. ”

        Sure you don’t think that Rick has no room to question AM simply because she’s a woman and he’s a man do you?

        Do privilege and honesty intersect? To a degree I’d say yes. However I do disagree with AM’s seeming implication that privilege is the root of dishonesty among men.

        • Gotta fix something:

          ” The fact that AM doesn’t grant her some sort of immunity to having her words questioned. ”

          Should have been:

          ” The fact that AM is a womn doesn’t grant her some sort of immunity to having her words questioned nor does it imply that she has some all knowing insight that is beyond question.

  3. Roger Durham says:

    Tom,

    Thanks for great questions, interesting responses from your friends and a critically important topic. I take issue with your title, though – I don’t see the paradox – and I don’t see the paradox in being male and being honest.

    I also disagree vehemently with PJ and JS in their response to your question about the possibility of being the same man at work and at home. As I see it, “play-acting” and being the “same man” no matter where you are, are not mutually exclusive. “Congruence” and “Goodness” reside at the core, not at the edges. We modify the edges to adapt to the circumstance, but when we let that modification slip to the core, that is when we lose congruence, and, in my view, become less than “good”.

  4. Is radical honesty that helps strangers but hurts loved ones worth it?
    I don’t understand this question. What is radical honesty? Is it extreme, or is it basic honesty? Is it drastic, or is it fundamental honesty? And what difference does it make whether it helps or hurts a stranger or a loved one? The distinction that matters most to me is motive. If a “lie” is intended to conceal something that would be hurtful to me, if uncovered, it is destructive to trust. If a “lie” is intended to protect someone from unnecessary pain, then it can contribute to trust. Now, there are lots of ways to challenge that statement, and if asked to defend it at gunpoint, I would probably defer, but the point is important, even if I am making a mess of explaining it. Self-serving lies, in my view, do not pass the litmus test of underlying honesty and concern for another that are the foundation for a trusting relationship.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      Roger, while I do believe in intent – to some degree – I think the problem comes from the fact that a) you can’t always be the judge of what is “good” for someone else. B) they might not want the outcome you do c) a lot of people have lied to me thinking it’s “for my own good” – when in fact, that’s how they justify the lie.

      So along comes “radical honesty”, which says you shouldn’t have pre-conceived notions of how the other person might respond – you tell the truth at all costs, because the truth is an absolute. Except, of course, it is not.

      It’s why I’m so big on the idea that it’s the actions that are important – acts of love, actions of forgiveness, acts of honesty.

      If you “act with love” in a relationship – not self-serving, but not putting the other person first either. Act in a way that is beneficial to both. And “do no harm”.

      Words themselves rarely cause irreparable harm. Words can be painful – but if you step back – it’s really the actions the person took that are painful. The words are just a way to explain the actions.

      If someone hit you but said, “I didn’t mean to hurt you” – isn’t that by definition a lie?

      • Lisa,

        I agree with you that actions are at the core of the matter. And I agree that we are never in a position to know or understand what another wants, or even what is best for another. But I do believe that lies that the lies that hurt relationship are those that are inspired by “self” protection, lies that are focused on the “self”. That was really the point I was trying to make.

        As for your last statement, I have been hit by someone who has said, “I didn’t mean to hurt you, I just wanted to get your intention.” And I believe that person was being honest with me.

  5. I don’t think men lie more than women do. I clicked on this article because I was trying to figure out what the paradox of male honesty was.

    A perfect man would never lie, but I don’t know any human being who has never told a lie in their life. Silence can be a lie. Radical honesty is not always good, it depends on what the truth is and what will happen if you speak it – or if you don’t. Sometimes you won’t know for sure whether good will come of it, but you have to speak up anyhow because the issue is important.

    Love is not a compromise of conflicting truths. Rather there are times when there is a truth and times when there are two different viewpoints that are equally good. Love helps you accept your partner’s view as being in good faith, even if you disagree with them. Sometimes in the heat of an argument, you forget about love.

    It’s hard to talk about telling painful truths when it’s in the abstract. Usually you shouldn’t tell people things that will hurt them. Sometimes you have to tell them something for their own good. In a marriage/long-term relationship, I think you usually have painful truths to tell because you haven’t been honest as you went along.

    No one acts the same with all the different people in their lives. The problem is if you act in a way with your friends or co-workers that you would not want your wife/partner to see. If you want to hide it, the chances are good there’s something wrong with it.

    Lying to your kids is almost always a bad idea. The most important lesson they learn about honesty is what you do in your life. Santa Claus is an exception along the lines of keeping secrets about birthday presents is okay.

    Living with integrity in a non-verbal way means that your actions match what you’re saying. You don’t just believe in equality, you do the dishes.

    Feelings are facts for the person who has them. They can sometimes be changed by reason, though.

    For the power of truth versus lies I go with Lincoln – you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

  6. About telling a woman she is beautiful so that she believes you. Your wife/partner is never going to believe this once and for all. She may believe it tonight, but she needs to hear it again tomorrow or the next day or next week.

    • Transhuman says:

      I find I have a reaction of immediate suspicion when someone comments positively on my appearance – it seems such a blatant manipulation. Do women really need such ego boosting on a daily basis and do they truly believe it?

  7. pillowinhell says:

    Ugh! Its okay to lie to your kids so they learn to call bullshit? I don’t think that’s a good way to teach integrity. Learning how to see through lies can be coached by showing them how to use reasoning, different perspectives and the ability to understand how and why minds might differ, as well as logic and drawing on their own experience. Lying to children teaches them that its okay to lie, to justify it and to not trust others.

    Amanda, if a woman is so afraid to speak her own mind, or believes she will not be listened to she has no business being married in the first place! Even they very traditional marriages I’ve seen showed that much respect for each other. I’ve known plenty of very traditional marriages where the wives were free to speak their minds on any given topic, and were frequently consulted by their husbands on any decision which needed to be made. Traditional marriages do not necessarily mean that a woman is silenced and unvalued. Silencing is a function of that particular relationship and the choices made in it, not of marriage itself.

    • She never said women were afraid of anything, just that society tends to validate the feelings of males more than females. She just said that men should be mindful of that when arguing with their wives.

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  10. These were all great answers but I must say, Amanda, yours were brilliant. This morning I finally got what my wife has been trying to tell me. We just had one of our best mornings together in a while. Thank you.

    • Is honesty really a Y chromosome kind of thing, and doesn’t conceptualizing it that way do a disservice to men and women?

      Gotta laugh a little that AM was part of this particular discussion.

  11. Amanda, I like your point about men needing to understand women are socialized to be accommodating and not to exploit it. Similarly, I think women need to understand men are socialized to be exploitive, to seize and maximize every opportunity… if we’re not we’re weak. Sometimes we get so focused on this, in and out of the home, we forget how to be honest, a person….then we get unhappy and/or angry. We are also socialized to be angered and damaged by degradation. To get out of this mess we need compassion and thoughtful explanation, not degradation and/or anger. The latter just drives us deeper in. Thank you for your thoughtful explanations.

  12. Jon Jay Obermark says:

    There is, in this, no real attention paid to the actual paradox. There seems to never be attention paid to any female privilege, here, even when the whole focus is supposedly straight on one of them.

    Men are morally undermined by the demand to exploit others for the sake of those dependent upon us. We have been in this position forever. Women are not, on a day-to-day basis undermined in this way to nearly the same degree.

    How do we unwind this, rather than just maundering over it. And how do we get women to let us actually think about it rather than just insisting that we should go off somewhere and “Think long and hard about i?”

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  1. [...] at GMP, Amanda Marcotte was invited to participate in a virtual roundtable to discuss “The Paradox of Male Honesty“.  At one point in the exchange she suggests that men who laugh at sexist jokes should grow [...]

  2. [...] The Paradox of Male Honesty by Tom Matlack [...]

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