There is the type of honesty where we are either dishonest or honest with others. Then there is the type of honesty where we are either honest or dishonest with ourselves. While I believe its generally a good idea to be honest with others, I would posit that honesty with self is perhaps more important. But let’s start with honesty with others to begin with.
I think its an interesting exercise to use extreme hypothetical situations in order to test the limits of our honesty. They have a way or breaking up our certainty and allow us to question our values. Consider the following situation;
If someone very close to you had a gun pointed to their head, and the telling of an outright lie would save them, would you lie? I do not know what your answer will be, but as far as I am concerned, I am going to be uttering a lie, even if it is an outrageous one. Granted that’s only a guess since I never have been in that situation and never hope to be. But the chances of me lying in that sort of situation remain high.
To be abundantly clear, I am not advocating living a life of telling lies. Its generally a very good idea to be honest with others. But I also think that in some situations it is just as sound to lie, or to withhold information as the above example highlights.
Another consideration is the motivation involved in telling the truth or a lie. There is a difference between being honest towards someone and using honesty as a vehicle to be mean towards someone. Here it is important to be in touch with the personal rationale and the underlying intentions of honesty. If we knowingly are causing hurt to someone or purposefully being mean under the guise of honesty, then our relationships are eventually going to suffer.
Trust becomes central in relationships particularly ones based on honesty. If our partners prefer an honest appraisal on how they might look in a set of clothes, then it is acceptable to say that you do not think they look good. The intention here is not to hurt the other person and that’s understood by both parties. This sort of trust takes times to build, but when trust and honesty are intermingled they become a powerful mix that can greatly enhance various forms of relationships.
The second type of honesty; the type where we are honest or dishonest with ourselves is a little different. Being honest with ourselves becomes crucial if we are looking to grow or expand our spiritual bent. In such a situation, any lie we tell ourselves only serves to build and perpetuate a false image of self.
It is a simplistic enough notion in theory, but in practice, it is an extremely difficult path to tread. As human beings, we have an enormous capacity for self- deception. Complicating things further is we often do not know when we are deceiving ourselves. Consider these two examples from my life:
“You know Edward, when I look at other couples; I know they have not got what we have. We have a special connection and a deeper love. They are a bit superficial; they do not talk about anything meaningful. We love each other – it is like we are soul mates and meant to be together.”
I agreed getting caught up in our ‘specialness’ and like her started to espouse the virtues of our relationship. Then my mind went blank momentarily as if hit by lighting. In fact, what I was hit by was a recognition of self-deception at play.
As a couple we had broken off just recently, therefore we were not even in a relationship. Nor did she seem willing to work on our issues in order to resolve them and get the relationship back on track. These were some pretty damning facts about the ‘specialness’ of our relationship. Relatively speaking, we were not in a superior position to the other couples we were discussing. But the pull of specialness in all its ego manifestations was powerful.
The point I would like to make is that we build a belief and the belief starts to take on a life of its own. It has an energy that carries us along. She put energy into the belief; I put energy into the belief. The belief starts to create a self-sustaining distorted view of reality. It was a reality that was filled with misguided pride and thus was bursting with self-deception.
Here is another example from my own life. A long time ago, I had taken to keeping a dream journal. Each morning, I would write down the dreams of the preceding night. In time, I noticed a curious habit.
I would change the contents of the dream material in order to project a better image of myself. It was not quite a fully conscious process. Instead, it seemed to occur more on an auto-pilot basis just below the threshold of conscious awareness. There was enough contact there however, that I eventually came to recognize this behaviour in myself. When I did come to recognize it, I also recognized the absurdity of the situation.
A call to honesty is a calling to authenticity. It is a continual calling because our capacity for self-deception is powerful. It reaches many depths where there are many different layers of experience intermingling with each other. The two examples used consisted of material just below the threshold of consciousness. There are other levels which run much deeper and equally hamper us on our search.
The capacity for self-deception at its deepest level is largely borne from the non-awareness of the phenomena that are affecting our state of being. The paradox it inevitably raises is how can we be honest if there is no awareness of the dishonesty in the first place?
To illustrate, allow me to use one more example from my life. For the longest time I had the belief that the best sex I ever had was with loving partners – aka people with whom there was a mutual love between us. If someone had asked me at the time, I would have argued black and blue that the best sex came from loving relationships, and that was my direct experience of it. From my perspective, I was neither lying to myself nor to others.
However, in later years, when some objectivity was reached and the mechanism of observing was more intact, I reflected upon that belief. In purely physical terms, the best sex I had emerged from two one-night stands, along with another relationship that was entirely based on sex. Which is not to say that I did not enjoy the sex that was involved in loving relationships, the fact was I loved it, most particularly the sense of connection with another. It is just that, strictly speaking, the best sex did not occur under the conditions of a loving relationship.
The paradox was that, in subjective experience at that time, I was neither lying to myself nor to others. Somehow, though, a level of self-deception had obviously occurred.
On reflection there was too much investment into the belief that the best sex occurred under the conditions of a loving relationship. The belief was so strong that it was nigh on impossible to construe that a level of self-deception was in play. Coupled with society’s propensity for investment in the belief that the best sex occurred in loving relationships then one might fathom why this belief set was difficult to deconstruct.
To be frank, I am not completely convinced that if someone had challenged me on this belief whether I would have listened. Their seemed to be a touch of fanaticism involved in this belief which would have been difficult to break I suspect.
The road to honesty involves several intricacies which often are not taken into account. It is simplistic and somewhat naïve for someone to be standing on a pedestal and preaching the value of honesty without considering the complexities involved.
Before we can be honest, we must learn to listen to ourselves in a manner we are unaccustomed too. We need to pay heed to miniscule bodily reactions, visceral imagery and note disparities in consciousness. It is an ability which we can learn, hone, and refine with time and effort.
I think that it is vitally important to make the effort to learn to listen to ourselves in order to overcome our tendency for self-deception. In a fashion, we must learn to stand outside of ourselves in order to listen to ourselves more accurately. Writing is a particularly good tool in this regard. Rather than allowing things to stay in mind, put them on paper, so that they can be dissected from various angles. Another good avenue is to rely on a good trusted friend for honest feedback. It is particularly useful if they have some skill at looking underneath the surface of things.
We can begin to shift into a more authentic life path by reducing and eliminating self-deception. It is an ongoing and continual process.
“A man can never hope to be more than he is, if he is not first honest about what he isn’t”