Honesty is like a plague that contaminates everything it comes in contact with. Be honest with just one person, and they, too, start coughing up little bits of sincerity all over your face. It’s wonderful.
For the past year, I have been living a personal challenge of being honest and nothing else. That means being honest with myself, being honest with reality and, most importantly, being honest with other people. I’ve been an aggressive champion of honesty, no matter how inconvenient or painful it is to be so.
This isn’t a novel idea; everyone knows honesty is a good thing. As you might expect, staying true to this has been very simple. When things are good for us, we naturally do them all the time without needing discipline or motivation. It’s like how everyone flosses every day, works out multiple times a week, eats healthy balanced meals and reads a new book to promote a life of learning.
It has been exceedingly difficult.
For the sake of context, know that before I took on this “honesty gambit” I wasn’t some serial liar or something. I told the truth all the time and have always enjoyed an ease of opening up to people about my feelings. However, at the back end of a regrettable break-up caused almost entirely by mutual dishonesty, I had to admit that I wasn’t as honest as thought I was.
The first lesson I learned was to stop underestimating honesty. It’s not an easy or natural thing to embody. We lie to avoid painful things, and many times being honest means willingly enduring unpleasant realities that (surprise!) we’d rather avoid. It’s hard to really grasp how often we inadvertently lie to ourselves and others until you become dedicated (obsessed) with being honest. I had to sacrifice many convenient lies I relied on to ease the everyday turmoil of my lofty, metropolitan life, and it was miserable.
Gone were the myriad of excuses as to why I didn’t want to get coffee with an old friend. Gone were the fairy tales about “busy work days” that so conveniently left me too exhausted to write or design something. Gone was the hopeful deception that I earnestly saw a future with X person as a means to justify my attraction to them.
No longer could I rely on the small lies and tiny niceties that would lubricate the transition between my public and private life — they both became one in a liberating, terrifying way. It is important to note that, when I refer to honesty, I mean more than just telling the truth: it’s about living a life that reflects how you truthfully feel inside. It’s about becoming transparent; removing all the smoke and mirrors between yourself and other people. I don’t know how long I can keep this up, but turns out it’s best thing that has ever happened to me, and here is why:
1. It makes life incredibly simple.
Dishonesty makes things complicated. That’s because dishonesty is the exact opposite of contending with reality. Being dishonest is the tangled art of temporarily avoiding hard things. At the very best, it can buy you some guilt ridden time away from the stress, but you never really escape it. The stress never goes away, it’s just pushed to a corner until it topples over you.
Honesty, on the other hand, is much simpler. All I have to do is follow one rule and things pretty much always work for the best.
A friend asks me why I have been so distant? I tell the kinda-sad truth.
I have a problem with how a colleague treats me? I tell the possibly-confrontational truth.
A woman asks what I want to do tonight? I tell the totally selfish truth.
I’m lying awake at night wondering why I am dissatisfied with my life: I tell myself the hard truth.
Telling the truth requires vigilance. It’s easy to bend the truth or snap it in half completely, and it requires a bit of courage to be honest. Similar to how the first lie is hard to tell, but then you get used to it; the first bit of honesty is difficult to embrace. After that, though, you will wonder why you ever avoided telling the truth.
2. I don’t “accidentally” hurt people anymore.
Although it’s sometimes gratifying to be mean, no one likes to hurt people. Sometimes you must hurt people (romantic rejection, creative critique, etc) and most of us have come to terms with that. Those who haven’t are doomed to find themselves “stuck” in relationships, bad friendships and ill-fated business ventures. It’s not as if anyone likes to hurt people, but it’s often the responsible thing to do.
Accidentally hurting someone is entirely different. Everyone hates hurting someone on accident, especially if you only wanted to help, love, or otherwise be kind to them. Haven’t we all said yes to something we wanted to refuse, setting in motion a series of falsities that always ends in the same old exhausted confessional about how we never wanted to say yes in the first place? Doesn’t “sparing someone’s feelings” somehow always cause people to re-double their efforts at winning you over? Tiny lies and false intentions will always lead to someone being hurt, as they will inevitably lead those being lied to into a head-on collision with the wrecking ball known as reality.
Thankfully, accidentally hurting people is pretty much the signature move of dishonest people, so in order to avoid that, all we have to do is be honest. Nowadays, when I am about to be painfully honest with someone, nothing is by accident. I feel good about being true to my feelings, and the person I hurt understands why it happened. We all enjoy a sense of relief and there is no confusion, only understanding.
3. My love life appreciates it more than I could have ever imagined.
I can write about the benefits of honesty forever, but it does have it’s limits. Honesty without empathy turns to cruelty and I would only recommend frankness with a loved one if you are confident you can be extra-considerate when dishing out the truth. That said, if you are well versed in emotional compassion, honesty will transform your love life.
Once, I was seeing a girl and that I liked very much. Things were great between us and the chemistry was clearly present. However, there was a gnawing reality that chewed at my mind every moment I was with her: I couldn’t see a future with her. It all felt temporary.
Fun dates and good conversation couldn’t make up for such a looming realization clouding my thoughts, so I knew things had to end. I instinctively thought of a million ways to tell her why I needed some time apart, without actually telling her “I’m only attracted to you in a very shallow way.” There was no way I could be that honest with her, right?
Well, no. I knew I could be that honest with her. It would just be hard, and awkward, and make me feel shallow — all things I wanted to avoided. When the time came, I asked to meet at a neutral location and forced myself to tell her the truth. I told her that my attraction to her was, embarrassingly enough, limited to her physical looks and a few shared interests.
Now that we’re separated, it’s not awkward or uncomfortable when we see each other. Whenever someone ask either of us what happened, there are no rumors or confusion. We both tell the same story and no one feels cheated or lied to. Had I followed through with the “spare her feelings and spare my ego” plan, I would have actually damaged both.
4. People want to help me all the time.
I used to make up all sorts of reasons as to why I didn’t want to, or couldn’t do things. I don’t know why I did this, but it happened time and again: If I was invited somewhere, I would often say yes, even though all I really wanted to do was stay home and play video games in bed. If someone asked me a question that I had a lame answer for, I’d try to change the topic completely or make something up. I would needlessly hide my true preferences because I was somehow uncomfortable with them being known.
Why did I used to do this? Why do any of us still do this? I can’t imagine any scenario in which I would be angry or resent someone for telling me the truth, yet the most consistent obstacle that gets in the way of honesty is the fear that others will do precisely that. Rather than potentially “burden” people with the truth, it was easier for me to exhaust my self trying manage their perception of things.
Sometimes it’s as simple as answering “I am!” when someone yells, “Who’s hungry?” Sometimes it’s a little harder and you have to admit to a friend “I have no money and can’t afford this road trip.” I can’t count the number of times someone has told me “you don’t have to come if you don’t want too” and I blatantly reject their offer, instead favoring a social death-march I feel forced endure.
Turns out there are mainly two important true things about this. Yes, I’m a poor, hungry, anti-social person that somehow has lots of friends, and no, nobody actually minds when I act like it.
5. There are far fewer things for me to regret.
Sure, I will always regret how stupid my hair looked in high school, or that one time I made a three year old cry because he tried to hold my hand and I accidentally flinched into his face, but the number of “I wish I had said this…” regrets have dropped off tremendously.
And it even goes beyond that. We all fail, but the most content feeling one can achieve during moments of despair is the realization that, despite everything that happened, you were true to yourself and to others. I don’t feel so bad about a failed relationship or a job I unsuccessfully applied for, because if things didn’t work out when I was being honest, would I have really enjoyed the alternative? A relationship fueled by incessant white lies? An entire career based off a fake set of qualifications?
No one wants that type of short term nonsense.
None of this is new information. Everyone knows the importance of honesty, but we aren’t reminded of it often enough. Somehow, I either forgot or underestimated the glaring advantages of being an honest person, and it slowly became less and less of a priority.
Honest people aren’t just good people, they are smart people. Even the smallest bits of dishonesty are, at their best, never noticed, or, at their worst, completely destructive. Everything thought to be gained (or most commonly, thought to be avoided) by being dishonest simply isn’t worth it.
And I think It’s hard to be honest becomes is so easy to forget about it. I’m reminded more often of how good antioxidants are for me, how important texting etiquette is, or how I can gain more muscle if improve my form at the gym. When I think of healthy, happy living, I think of an organized closet or a well-designed living room, or some other gold standard set by anyone but myself.
We all get it by now. There are a million things we could improve about ourselves. However, even the healthiest, most buff person with the most impeccable wardrobe sending out the most charming text messages inviting all of their gorgeous friends to the most understated-yet-absolutely-perfect-house party isn’t much of a person if they are dishonest.
And I think that the simplicity of that reality is something we should be reminded of more often.