Many people confuse honesty and truth. The Good Men Project’s Ethics Editor swears he knows the difference.
To me, honesty constitutes the effort we make to provide an accurate, factual representation of events and actions in our communication both to others and to ourselves, while truth is subjective, interpretive, relative, and ultimately personal. Accurate and factual means what a camera, or set of cameras to avoid possible misinterpretation resulting from angle and distance, would record if trained on the scene—not what we bring forth from the fog of memory. Honesty is an action—our best attempt at objectivity—and though it may be imperfect, our motives are pure; we try to be honest in our recall and our recounting. Truth is the story we come to—and convince others to—believe.
Being honest is hard, because it often means admitting we’ve behaved inappropriately or hurtfully, and confronting unpleasant revelations about ourselves, and both these processes can bring on painful consequences. So sometimes, instead of being honest, we adopt a more convenient, less lacerating truth. While some dishonesty is malicious and intended to mislead or even harm, most flows from fear, defensiveness, the instinct for self-preservation, and the rationalization that the end justifies the means. When we face shame, loss, or self-destruction, honesty falters and fades away. In many cases, we’re not even conscious of our truth-altering. Partly this is because our minds are not cameras but imperfect devices for capturing, storing, and recalling information, and partly it’s because the truth we end up settling on solves a problem, fits a particular situation, or satisfies a need. This doesn’t mean we believe these truths or defend them any less fervently. But it does mean they are not honest.
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