“It’s hard to know the truth about people by how they look or even what they say, but you can discover a good deal by rummaging through their belongings.”– Michael Masterson
Ralph, a protégé of mine, once told me that he was taking a class in “radical” honesty to help him communicate with his son. One exercise that the instructor recommended was for them stand face-to-face, naked, and talk about their “issues.” He was eager to try it.
“Good luck with that,” I thought….
Hugo, a friend of mine, was in a bind. He had been offered a good job working for Leopold, another friend of mine. He intended to take the job, but had done some research and discovered that Leopold had a reputation for being difficult. He asked me if I thought he had a moral obligation to tell Leopold what was being said about him.
“Bad idea,” I said. “Leopold is a smart man, and I’m sure that he is aware of his reputation. He’s interested in you as an employee, not as a personal consultant.”
“I think I’m going to do it anyway,” Hugo said.
And you can imagine how that went….
The day after their marriage counseling appointment, Suzanne says to David, “You are an idiot.”
“We’re not supposed to speak like that to one another, “ David reminds her. “Just express your feelings, like Dr. Berns said. “Just speak honestly about how you feel.”
“You’re right,” Suzanne says. “I’m sorry. I feel like you’re an idiot.”
Six months later, they were divorced….
A digital marketing guru republishes a blog post he wrote that “got more responses than any other email I’ve ever written.”
It’s about a phone conversation he had with his mother when he was in college. He was working from his apartment doing affiliate marketing. She was “nagging” him “non-stop” to get a “real job.” The conversation got tense. She accused him of “scamming people on the internet for money.” He felt like “a knife had been twisted in [his] back.”
“Fuck you! Don’t fucking talk to me!” he yelled.” And then he hung up. “I was trying so hard to make it. And my mother was just shitting all over me.”
He says he still has anger for her, but he’s “come to realize that’s just who she is.”
Honesty is a false god. It is not a virtue. It is at best the illusion of virtue. Most of the time, honesty is inwardly focused and self-indulgent. It is an escape hatch that allows us to sneak away from our deeper moral responsibilities.
Most people know this in their bones. But because there is so much philosophical pollution in our thinking today, it is seldom if ever acknowledged.
There is something more trustworthy than honesty, and that is truth. Not my truth or your truth, but the truth. A truth that is verifiable. A truth that is universal. A truth that is incontrovertible.
Telling the truth takes courage. Telling your truth – i.e., being honest about your half-baked thoughts and feelings – takes no courage at all.