Why Is It So Hard To Be Honest With Ourselves?

Ryan McGuire
StockSnap / Ryan McGuire

I always have a writing device with me, and today I came across a note, “The truth sounds crazy only because people spend much of their days lying to each other. And to themselves.” I don’t know if I wrote this down in a moment where the thought suddenly crossed my mind, and I didn’t want to forget it. Or perhaps I heard someone say it or read it in a book. Either way, I’ve been thinking about it for most of the day. Why is the truth such a difficult and strange endeavor?

Now big T or capital T truths are difficult because they often require what feels like intelligence beyond the human capacity or imagination. It’s not that human beings aren’t powerful – it’s just that human beings have limits. Epistemology – the study of how we know things; the realm of knowledge that is concerned with well, knowledge, still requires that we take certain things for granted – that we make assumptions. And assumptions require faith. Do truths – capital T – and otherwise, require faith too?

I do not care much for a conversation about capital T truths today but I do wonder about our ability (and desire) to be honest with each other. And more importantly, to be honest with the person that we see in the mirror. I don’t think the latter is possible without the former. And I wonder: Can most of us even stand to look at ourselves in the mirror? To ask questions about who we really are, and what we really want? And when we don’t – and many of us don’t – what is the price we pay?

Dishonesty about who we are and what we want seems to be more of the status quo than the reverse. In one sense, I think we tell lies to protect ourselves. If we can convince ourselves that we are a certain kind of somebody and that we want or ought to want a certain kind of thing, having those predisposed ideas in our heads is much easier than the effort of discerning who we are, and forging a new path.

Beyond that, I think many of us suffer from a very real fear of showing who we really are to a brutal world – a world that is often judgmental in the worst kind of way. Or worse, indifferent. It strikes me, however, as somewhat bewildering to be afraid of this exposure when the self – who we are – is not something alone that we are born with; the self is something that we create. Perhaps then we’re dishonest because we’re afraid to create.

And who has time to create? Isn’t it just the prerogative of the privileged? Those with so much time on their hands, they sit and wonder, “Who am I?” rather than getting on with the tasks of the day or the tasks of life. I know that shall be the critique of why anyone would confront these things. But the need to be honest with one’s self, though must involve the deliberate decision to confront our experiences and our desires – all of which take time and concerted effort – should not be relegated to a pass time of those who have “the time.”

In fact, I would say that those who have less privilege in all the ways one can – are often those who are the most honest about who they are and what they want. Perhaps when one has less, survival becomes the primary concern. And in that need to survive, one discovers the person they are in the moment, and the person they may need to become. So, how do we, whose goals may extend beyond survival in the moment, find the will to be honest – with ourselves primarily, and then with each other?

I believe it is first in admitting the parts of ourselves that we are most inclined to be dishonest about. These (obviously) tend to be the parts of ourselves that we are most insecure about. Everything from the passions that keep us from sleeping, to the people we continuously fall for – people who might be bad for us, but people we want all the same. Admit it. Admit it – admit to yourself who you are, and what you want; what you fear, what you think about when no one else is around and it’s just you, surrounded by your thoughts.

I’ll go first: I am probably braver than I think I am – but probably less brave than people might see me. I am not as confident as my walk and talk would have you believe. On many days, I find everything from my body to my brain inadequate – just not good enough. Above all other things, I fear being ordinary, and leaving the world an ordinary person who never tried to be more.

But I know I’m also the girl who is not afraid to decide to pick up her bags and go – “go anywhere but here.” I am also the girl who though struggles with vulnerability in all human relationships, loves terrifyingly. I am fearless in my passion for the things that I believe in – sometimes a passion that ought to be tempered. I am the girl who wants everything, and all the time. I am the girl who believes that one can be happy and great – and who wants both these things even if I’m not quite sure what they mean.

Honesty isn’t easy. But it sure feels better than everything else. And it’s scary – it means getting rejected by things and by people that you thought were for certain. And it’s lonely – sometimes all you’ll have is just you and your honesty. But maybe that’s enough. And maybe it’s the greatest way, the only way really, to find the things and people that are meant for you. At the very least, it’s worth giving a shot.

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