H is for honesty
Updated: Jul 23
“We are honest when it doesn’t cost us anything, but the moment we are called on to sacrifice something to be honest, we abandon this virtue.” Matthew Kelly
Honesty is a virtue but it is not easy to be completely honest today; we have a tendency to settle for an ‘honesty of convenience’ that has been learnt from an early age and in which a certain amount of ‘white lies’ are deemed necessary or acceptable; but necessary for who and why? We justify ourselves by not wanting to feel uncomfortable, to embarrass ourselves or others or cause others offence or simply saying it is not important in the great scheme of things, “It won’t matter just this once”, “The means justify the ends” etc but do they? There is no personal act. Everything we do affects those around us.
Brad Blanton in his book ‘Radical Honesty’ argues that when we teach children to be moralists, we train them at the same time to be liars because “‘being good’ and ‘looking good’ conscientiously valued, leads direct to lying.”
In order to manage the ‘disease of moralism’ which is concerned with right and wrong rather than being fully alive and is based on fear of losing love (initially often from a parent for ‘being bad’ and not living up to expectations) we need to return to innocence and tell the truth like children do before they are ‘corrupted’ by the pressure to fit in and conform suffocated by the opinions and value judgments of others.
We now live in a world where complete honesty is accepted as not really possible in today’s society but in so doing we have lost something of ourselves and our own lives and those in society as a whole are poorer for it.
“Our lives genuinely improve in a way that a can be sustained only when we grow in virtue. Individual virtues are the bricks that build character, and character is the backbone of all authentic progress for individuals, communities, cultures and societies.” Matthew Kelly (Perfectly Yourself)
When we are dishonest with others, we are being dishonest with ourselves and it is a betrayal of self.
How do we become honest?
The first step in being honest is to be honest with ourselves, take responsibility and not play the victim. We often deliberately deceive ourselves in many ways; making excuses and justifying why we have to or can’t do something but this is just being a victim of our own self-deception.
When we seek to live with honesty in all aspects of our lives we need to be proactive and face up to different challenges along the way concerning how we speak, act or live our lives and not seek to avoid the truth because of discomfort or fear or the effort of having to change.
We don’t become honest just because we aspire to it or as a benefit of aging we have to earnestly seek, nurture and guard honesty at every turn; it is the ‘work’ required to live an authentic life.
“In many moments every day, we must choose between a radical honesty with self and others, and an honesty of convenience that sooner or later descends into a web of lies and deceit. At these crossroads, we are choosing between our authentic self and some second-rate version of the amazing person we are capable of being” Matthew Kelly
Brad Blanton (Radical Honesty) states quite unreservedly that we all lie and it is this constant lying that is a major source of all human stress which eventually contributes to our death. He goes on to say that “The kind of lying that is the most deadly is withholding, or keeping back information from someone we think would be affected by it.” To escape the consequence of lying we need to tell the truth. We need to take responsibility and not blame outside circumstances or others or past events for our life situation.
“Telling the truth frees us from entrapment in the mind”. Brad Blanton
We avoid telling the truth through fear of what it might do to ourselves or others but “telling the truth kills nothing but false roles, images, interpretations and lies” Brad Blanton
In Viktor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, Frankl argues that we are not bound to our environments and we always have a choice despite our circumstances. Our environment can be a determiner of our actions, but it is not fate; there are always opportunities within our limitations. You may not always have a choice in your circumstances and environment but you do always have a choice in how you react to those things imposed upon you.
“We tell ourselves lies in a distorted attempt to remain sane, but in fact it is the lies that turn us towards insanity.” Matthew Kelly
We are used to telling lies to ourselves about ourselves, our family, our friends, our work, our situation using excuses such as “Everything would be alright if...”, “If I had more time” “If I was younger, healthier, richer etc I’d."... What excuses and lies do you tell yourself?
We all have the capacity to improve ourselves but in order to do so effectively we need to know ourselves and know when we are not being honest with ourselves. We are all imperfect; some of our imperfections are part of who we are but other aspects can be unlearned and stand in the way of us becoming a better version of ourselves. It is a delicate balance that requires self- knowledge to acknowledge and discern the difference between the positive and negative aspects of our character and to make continual progress whilst having the courage to apply the things we learn When we tell the truth we use our mind creatively “as an artist rather than as a victim” Brad Blanton
“Rigorous honesty and love of truth in turn give birth to integrity. Honesty means that we can be taken at our word and what we say can be trusted. Integrity means that we can be relied on to do what we say we will do. Together honesty and integrity make us worthy of trust –trustworthy.” Matthew Kelly
The next step is to be honest with others.
“We are being alive behind the mask of personality” Brad Blanton
Being honest with ourselves is the first step towards integrity. When we are honest with ourselves it makes it possible to be honest with others. The more we deceive ourselves the more this will manifest in our communication with other people.
“Coming out from behind our roles permits us to look behind the roles of others. Because we can see more clearly, the threat of other people, posing in their roles, fades” Brad Blanton
By being honest with ourselves we become more capable of openness and intimacy and have greater freedom and understanding. It allows us to create a space to relate freely to others whatever role they are playing.
“If we humans are to be saved from ourselves, individually as well as collectively, we have to learn more about the art and science of speaking the truth. None of us can do it without a lot of help from each other.” Brad Blanton
Honesty is essential in love. If you are honestly yourself and someone responds to you with love then they are loving the real you, but if you are hiding the real you behind a role with artificial behaviour then when others express love it will be towards a phony version of yourself that you have created not your authentic self and you will have to be constantly on guard not to let your mask slip for fear that the ‘real’ you will be discovered and you cover will be blown and they won’t like you anymore. Imagine the levels of stress that this would create, being compounded day in and day out and only serving to reinforce your own notion that your real self must be kept hidden away as it is unlovable.
“When we reveal more, we have less to hide. When we have less to hide, we are less worried about being found out, we can pay better attention to someone else. In this way, telling the truth makes intimacy and freedom possible.”
Honesty is not a part time virtue that we can choose when to apply or not and the key to growth and wholeness beyond adolescent moralism is through telling the truth.
“Principles are substitutes for an independent outlook the owner would be lost in the ocean of events if he were not able to orient himself by these fixed bearing. Usually he is even proud of them and does not regard them as weaknesses, but as a source of strength. He hangs on to them because of the insufficiency of his own independent judgment.” Fritz Perls (1946)
Even if sometimes our self-deception simply stems from a lack of self-knowledge this doesn’t lessen the impact on ourselves or others which is why time spent in self-reflection is essential.
The final step is concerned with honesty about others and the application of the The First Agreement: Be Impeccable With Your Word Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love. »
“Willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously, when we talk about others, we are often participating in a spiralling episode of lies and deceit.” Matthew Kelly
So why do we do it? Why do we not end a conversation that has turned to gossip about others or steer it elsewhere? Is it because we haven’t got the energy to walk away, we don’t want to get on the wrong side of the person who initiated the conversation, wanting to fit in etc or is it because if we are being honest we want to hear about someone else’s faults to make us feel better about ourselves or being generous do we want to hear about the humanity of others so we can feel more human ourselves?
As with any form of communication, language is the key. It has the power to reach from one ‘being’ to another bypassing the mind. The choice of language of your authentic being is descriptive language; simply describing what is so without any attachment. Your authentic self is concerned with self-awareness and psychological flexibility, it can embrace change and is also referred to as the observing self or the neutral observer in ACT . The language of the mind in contrast is evaluative language; it makes evaluations and judgments and has self-limiting beliefs and opinions.
“Connection happens through the Observing Self. It involves bringing our full attention to what is happening here and now without getting distracted or influenced by the Thinking Self. The Observing Self is non-judgmental. It can’t judge our experience, because judgements are thoughts and therefore a product of the Thinking Self. The Observing Self doesn’t get into a struggle with reality; it sees things as they are without resisting Resistance only happens when we fuse with our judgments that things are bad, wrong or unfair.” Russ Harris
Radical (meaning the essence of things) is applied to honesty by Brad Blanton. He describes “the core of truth, not just the outward trappings. Just as there is “the letter of the law” and the “spirit of the law”, so there is literal truth and essential truth”
Honesty is a behaviour that we can choose or not. When we choose to be honest with others we will have better connections and show that we can be trusted. A additional point that Brad Blanton made that I found interesting was that we can still trust people, regardless of whether we like them or not, if we believe that they are honest and sincere.
“An honest person is concerned foremost with accuracy. Being honest is not just for the sake of feeling good about being a virtuous person; it is a vital necessity. That means your life depends on it. Learning how to be honest and being willing to do so is the cure for all non-environmental stress disorders. It is the key to managing the disease of moralism.” Brad Blanton
A successful life is one you can share openly without any rehearsal. We often hear the phrase ‘Think before you speak’ but our problems do not always arise from not thinking enough. When we learn to think about or modify what we want to say, adjusting to our audience beforehand, it creates a level of stress rather a model of health and only really creates an illusion of security.
An honest person, reliant on their intuition, may not appear as traditionally secure as someone who hides behind masks, roles and procedures because they have less props to rely on but “Comfortable uncertainty is a prerequisite for a creative fulfilling life” (Brad Blanton) and those who are honest have a greater freedom reliant on a growth mindset.
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
What do you think about white lies and honesty of convenience?
Do you think that it is important to be always honest? Do you think it is always possible?
If you want to reflect more on this subject, here are some links to get you started: