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)
JS= Joel Stein
AM= Amanda Marcotte
“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
Tom Matlack hosts a Socratic Roundtable on Honesty with Joel Stein, Amanda Marcotte, Tom Miller, Dan Barrett and Todd Mauldin.
Cameron Conaway’s fiancee asks him “How often do other women give you a bone?”
When it comes to honesty, Lisa Hickey would rather ignore words and focus on actions.
A poem by Jack Varnell