Honestly Honest: Musings on the multiple meanings of honesty

by Laura Lynch, LCSW, Life Coach

The public discourse has seen a lot of discussion about honesty.  Before and since Plato the topic of honesty is always worth discussing.

I know that  lies, either as a liar or recipient of lies – not being who you are, the experience of betrayal, can take us down difficult roads and have unintended consequences.  It also seems to be something that goes against learning, which after all should be about the search for truth.  I have also had the experience of others “protecting be for my own good” therefore leading to a feeling of betrayal, and myself trying to hide an unfortunate truth, out of fear of consequences. But the “truth will out” as Shakespeare wrote and consequences will come anyway.

I tend to be a private person, often keeping thoughts to myself, but at the same time I am pretty much the same person in whatever role I take, although there some variations, like different shades and intensities of the same color.  I do believe there is a reason why we can’t read each other’s minds, other it may seem otherwise.  I mean, that is a good thing. (Remember the move Liar Liar?). When all is said and done being true to myself, and others, seems a better way to being happy. But doing this is not necessarily easy.

An honest life seems to be one that is authentic, that you  are acting out your values.  But what about the moral underpinnings? If a dictator is being true to their own beliefs, how do we view honesty then?  When we consider honesty, what do we really mean? And of course, do the ends justify the means?

I came up with a list of questions to examine the complications of honesty.

Does it mean being outspoken and blunt?  Who do you trust more, someone who is loud or quiet? Do the filters between people, either loudness or silence, interfere with honest dialogue and lead to misunderstandings and misperceptions?

Does it mean purity or innocence?  (Out of the mouth of babes).

Does it mean having integrity?  – which implies sturdiness and strength, everything holding together, built to last, consistency of character.

Does it mean a form of kindness?  What does it imply?

Does it mean a lack of simplicity or greater simplicity?

Does honesty sit in the realm of rational thinking, emotions, or intuition or all of the above?

Can it  actually be  merely a perception of honesty, used as a tool to persuade or manipulate, even for immoral goals?

If something has the ring of truth, is this the case, or what you want to hear?

Is it a set of facts?

Is it the same as truth?

Is honesty the same as being right or correct?

Is the ability to engage in dialectical thinking with self and other a path to honest understanding?

What does it mean to “say it like it is”, but show a lack of critical thinking, insight, or just be mistaken.

How does honesty relate to scientific and exploratory learning, and the ability to see the world in which facts and truth might change with understanding?

If honesty denotes certitude, can certitude become rigidity, and therefore no longer reflect truth?

Do people value honesty over other things, or is it more important to feel comfortable?

How do you know if you are truly being honest with yourself, given healthy defense mechanisms?

How does the discovery of dishonesty and betrayal erode trust, and how can it be repaired?

What does cognitive dissonance have to do with honesty?

How does honest living in every part of your life help with resiliency and happiness?

What is the best way to live an honest life in words and deeds?

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