The ‘H’ Word
By definition, honesty is ‘the practice of being truthful and moral or of being open and sincere’. Are we? Can we afford to be? Unfortunately this is one of those questions that people do not like to answer. Whether or not we are willing to admit it, there is, by necessity, always some aspect of our lives that we keep hidden at least from certain people, if not from everybody. We are all human, and things have happened in all our lives we would rather not talk about. It is a controversial issue that must be touched on delicately.
There is a certain prudence and wisdom in this practice, as certain facts do not concern others and have no relevance for them at all. In fact, they only serve to stimulate chitchat and ridicule, and usually manage to cause outright embarrassment, especially when viewed out of their intended context or used irresponsibly.
Our brief discussion is not meant to judge the reader or to interfere in any way in his or her personal code of ethics, but rather to stimulate a bit of thought as to how many of us in this day and age are truly being honest, within sensible limits, with others – even with our families, our spouses or our best friends.
We are not talking about openly revealing everything to everybody. That would be, excuse the word, ludicrous. We are referring here to our personal morals which should not, but maybe do, waver in different situations.
Honesty & Morality – Gauging Today’s Values
Degrees of social honesty, if we relate them to any time period, are arguably a purely relative phenomenon. Yes, there have been key times and places in the world’s history when people were generally considered honest. Similarly, there have been times and places when people’s morals were arguably much worse.
Not surprisingly, individual perspectives on honesty and morality differ radically from one person to the next. Some of us hate analyzing ‘shades of grey’ in any situation and see everything as black or white. For others the moral aspects of a thought or action are adjustable or dynamic rather than carved in stone or static.
A key factor that often causes people to hesitate in confiding anything to another person is how accessible and how approachable that other person is. If you discourage people from coming to you or your temperament is such that you are easily angered or quickly become impatient, honesty about serious matters will be very difficult for others and will more often than not ‘take a seat in the back row’.
Similarly, if someone has gained your trust and confidence over time as a sensible and reliable friend, you would be more inclined to confide in him or her, as opposed to someone whose tact or sense in such matters is questionable. Other key factors are the cultural or religious context surrounding your social circle and family. Some matters are frowned upon and simply cannot be discussed.
Responsibility for Your Own Actions
When we go ahead and do something, we must be prepared for the consequences. By any definition of human decency, it is simply wrong for someone not to take responsibility for anything they actually did. You cannot actually do something and then simply deny having done it. Unfortunately there are people around us who do this all the time.
Think about it. Once this tendency is accepted by you mentally, there is no limit to it. As an extreme example, once you accept lying to another person, you may conceivably condone cheating another person. Both the temptation and the lack of guilt then increase. Potentially the severity of one’s actions can increase fourfold and turn much more sinister.
It is human nature that when you are getting away with such things, you are not inclined to stop. Many major things have historically happened that started out as minor incidents. It kept increasing the person’s confidence each time he or she got away with it. Remember it is very easy to say: ‘know when to stop’. Unfortunately, most of us don’t know when to stop.
Too Much Honesty: The Morals Behind Manipulation
It is an unfortunate fact of life today that in certain situations, some among us think nothing of the need for mock displays of emotion, the use of selected phrases or conveying manipulated facts in order to achieve desired reactions from people.
This is not to imply that being dramatic is a reflection of dishonesty on anyone’s part. The intention in most cases is not to deceive but rather to get results, often for a commendable reason. Admittedly, depending on the context and the intention, drastic measures may justifiably have to be taken for a sensible cause when simple persuasion does not work.
People habitually ignore what they consider trivial matters. So they feel that the apparent triviality of certain situations has to be somehow removed. People sometimes do this by making the matter appear more urgent or serious than it is. We see yet another aspect of interpersonal manipulation with fake honesty. Some people claim to be sincere and straightforward but by doing so, they simply take advantage of people’s naivete and simplicity.
Sharing Personal Facts
From our earliest days, our friendships with others develop based on how the other person in the equation respects our feelings, how he or she time and again proves his or her personal loyalty and eventually earns our trust. Of course this works both ways. It is also a glaring, unavoidable fact that not everyone can be trusted with the sensitive facts of your life. Those of us who have naively shared any such confessions have sometimes learnt, at the cost of their very self-respect and personal dignity, not to take such steps till trust has been firmly established.
At times, people can betray this trust as a result of personal resentment at a friend’s remarks or actions. The need for revenge can cloud one’s thinking and judgment. Never let your emotions get the better of you. These are usually misunderstandings and if we make the unfortunate mistake of not clearing them, we can regret this all our lives.
Communication In Marriage
This is a very, very sensitive issue best left alone. However, our marriages are directly and severely affected by our personal concept of honesty. Our partners deserve our full loyalty and sincerity, and we should also endeavor to earn theirs. When we cover up certain facts or hide certain things, it shows that we do not trust our partners, either to forgive us or even to be receptive.
This could conceivably be true depending on the nature of the hidden facts. It largely depends also on how well we have gotten to know our life partners and how much trust has blossomed. We must do what we can to inspire trust in our life partners, by staying true to our trust, our promises and our lifelong commitments, which will at times be very hard but selfishness has no place in the realm of mutual trust.
Expecting Too Much From Others
We must admit to ourselves that our expectations are at times unrealistic. We judge each other a bit harshly as well. We should leave room for others, being human, to make innocent mistakes once in a while. We have to tone down our expectations because people will simply let us down if we expect too much from them. Interestingly, this is also relative. What may come easily to one person may be extremely hard to do for another person.
What is distressing is that the people with whom we do eventually share our thoughts and feelings do not always comprehend that it is actually a privilege to be hearing the details of another person’s most intimate and personal thoughts or feelings.
They are sadly unaware that conveying such a lack of sensitivity while for example pretending to listen, whether intentionally or unintentionally, hurts the person considerably In so doing they are eroding that person’s trust that there are caring people in this world as well..
Trust and integrity are never perfect or predictable. Even pastoral, medical and other professionals who are duty-bound to respect confidentiality, contrary to their legal and moral obligations, have been known to fall short of this requirement on occasion. Obviously they pay the price for this violation. This is a serious matter that should not be addressed lightly by any of us. Notwithstanding the situation that may be at hand, no amount of manipulation or coercion should entice one to betray a professional trust.
We all make mistakes and most likely all of us have made errors in judgment at one time or another. In conclusion we can safely say that our own personal values; our cultural or religious barriers; all our day to day experiences; and the nature of ‘the skeletons in our closets’ affect our concept and use of honesty in our daily lives.
Honesty takes hard work, but it is worth it.