Honesty was a great thing when we were kids … for our parents. Your mother or father wanted your honesty so that they could move past your Tom Foolery and punish you already. “Just be honest,” mother would say. They were exhausted. It’s a lot of work raising kids, and working a job on top of that. So, if they could convince you to fess up to whaling on your sister or stealing tinker toys from your brother they could put you in the corner and get on with life.
But, as an adult, I have a tough time believing that honesty matters. I’m not saying you should be dishonest with people. I’d be the last person to advocate that. But, do you need to be fully honest with people, or is it alright to hold things back? Is that a form of dishonesty, self-preservation, or understanding of humans? When I look at it, I see that we all want honesty, but not many of us can handle honesty.
Any experiments in radical honesty are proof that what we want are a glossed over version of the truth that doesn’t provide such openness as to freak out or scare away people. We are Puritan in this approach, needing just enough honesty to assuage our curiosity but not so much as to delve in to the shady corners of another’s mind.
Why do we find being honest so difficult? Maybe I have too much faith in people, but I believe that humans do not intentionally misrepresent themselves. You need to be a pretty horrible sort of human to consciously manipulate others by selling yourself as something you are not. Those people are out there. But, most often, misrepresentation and dishonesty arises from ignorance and subconscious responses.
We want to people please because being loved by others is infinitely better than being rejected. Our natural inclination is to tell people what they want to hear. I have done this in past relationships, always to my own detriment and unhappiness. Not that I always please in relationships, but I want to support and help, even sometimes at my own expense. This makes me show overoptimism as a way to help people grow. Overoptimism can be a form of dishonesty when we aren’t being real with people. So how is your desire to please people affecting your relationships, the way you do business, your attitude?
Second, we have deeply entrenched ideas and concepts about the self that determine how we respond when we are faced with difficult questions that might put us in an inadequate light. The fragility of our egos makes us want to be good enough to exist in current company. Our biggest fear with the social is being found out by others. We have self doubts, questions about what we deserve, and fears that prevent us from belonging. This is why we settle in business and life for much less than our best.
Since these things happen on a subconscious level we don’t even recognize our dishonesty, for our actions and words are merely meant to soothe the fears and resignations of our ego, regaining the confidence we need to strive for our potential.
o, where does that leave us? We have a desire to please others and please ourselves, and this desire puts pressure on us to not break the perfect snow globe of our existence. If you understand that people are either going to say what makes you happy, or hide part of the truth from you because of conscious and subconscious fears, then you notice the futility of complete honesty with others.
Maybe, instead of expecting complete honesty from others, we need to understand and appreciate the complexity of life that causes people to hold back. Expectations create frustrations. We should go into human interactions realizing we’re seeing only one side of a situation or person.
Not knowing is OK. There is much more that we don’t know about the world than we do about it, but somehow we still manage to live and thrive. In the great complexity of the world sometimes we need to throw our hands up, accept all that is beyond our control, and embrace the chaos that is living. Maybe I’m wrong on this one, but I can’t shake the feeling that what people want more than honesty is someone to say “It’s OK”, because understanding has more awareness than honesty, and awareness of humanity’s complexity does more good then telling the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Photo: Getty Images