Honesty is the best policy?
Well, we’ve heard it since we were knee high to a grasshopper (love that phrase). From the time we could decipher right from wrong, our parents insist that we tell the truth. In various and sundry churches we are reminded that the evils of lying are part of the Biblical Top Ten List of really bad stuff. Disney gives us Pinocchio with its mildly disturbing visuals of what will happen to us if we fib, fake or engage in falsehoods of any kind. Even the esteemed and enlightened world of reality TV seizes every opportunity to exploit the downfalls of deceit for the questionable entertainment of us all. So whether we implement it or not, every one of us is well aware of the age old and undeniable fact that “Honesty is the best Policy.” Or is it?
Now that I’ve thrown out bait of something sensational and potentially scandalous, allow me to go on record and say that I am a letter of the law kind of gal when it comes to telling the truth. I have NO place in my life for lies, deceit or dishonesty. I don’t even like it when people exaggerate stories for the sake of entertainment value. It bugs me…because it’s not the THE truth. Yet the question I wrestle with is not the fundamental importance of honesty and integrity throughout every aspect of our life, business, and relationships. The question really is, just how forthcoming can and should we really be? Just how much “honest” can others really tolerate coming their way…from us? Perhaps, as Jack Nicholson so fiercely and memorably stated: “The truth? You can’t handle the truth!”
Greg and I recently enjoyed the privilege of spending time with an extraordinary couple and we were bantering around and pulling apart a whole lot of questions as well as our answers to them. We arrived at one question in particular and my answer; the thought I wrote down was “the risk/reward of honesty.” This dilemma runs so deep that the minute I even wrote down my answer I thought to myself, “What did I just do? I’m not sure I want to talk about this.” I’m not even sure how honest I want to be about my dilemma with honesty. Now I hope it is abundantly obvious that I’m not talking about the kind of honesty which applies to the query of “did you leave the empty milk carton in the fridge?” or “how much did you spend on that pair of shoes exactly?” What I really wonder on is how safe we feel to share our TRUE selves with others. The good the bad and the ugly of us. Do people want to see, know, accept and love the true Us, or is the pleasing, polished and unlikely to make anyone uncomfortable version preferred?
We all watched Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace. Should he have been involved in performance enhancing drugs? Umm…no. But do we really want to be aware of the fact that he is in a sport where nearly EVERYONE succumbs to the pressure to achieve and excel at super human levels. Would we rather believe in Lance Armstrong as an heroic example of everything from overcoming all the odds to incredible accomplishment? Do we want to know and understand the truth that lies behind the imperfect, flawed human being or do we want yet another record breaking Tour de France victory and more proof of how amazing he is and how inspired we should be? Do we want THE truth, or do we crave a version that suits US and what we want and need to believe?
For instance, studies have shown that most men are ready, willing and able to take a job they aren’t entirely qualified for and will basically fake it til the make it. Women on the other hand tend to feel they need to have the skills and qualifications BEFORE they take the job. So what gives? We don’t want men to present as uncertain or unable. We want them to be strong, confident and assured. Does a manager want a guy to walk into the office and say, “this new job has got me completely freaked out. I’m in over my head, have no idea how to accomplish half of what’s contained in the job description and I’m scared to death of failing.” Nope. They want their most promising employee to say “hell ya I can do that! Piece of cake. I was hitting numbers and margins like that at eight years old with a lemonade stand! I’ve soooooo got this!” Do we want the truth, or do we want him to serve up the truth WE desire with the swagger and confidence of a corporate rock star?
There is an unwritten rule which goes something like this: to a palatable degree, announcing our imperfections makes us human, relatable and blithely endearing to others. It taps in to our desire to feel like we have something in common or that we’re all in this together. But the TRUTH is, in some ways we’re afraid that we are UNcommon. That we are more flawed, more afraid, more insecure, more incapable, more unworthy, more broken and more unlovable. Now isn’t that super fun! So here we are; tussling with the notion that perhaps we want others to be honest WITH us, but we don’t really want to be honest ABOUT us. We don’t want to risk it. To step into that unnerving unknown where we expose our truest self; all of our faults, flaws and fascinating imperfections hanging on the hope that showing up with everything we are will be seen as an act of courage. We roll the dice praying our daring reveal will be rewarded with encouragement, acceptance and embrace of all things Us. And in an amusingly ironic twist we realize that if we long for others to accept us entirely and unconditionally then we are obligated to return the favor. What?! Yep. If we want to get it, we better give it. Are we ready, willing and able to welcome others into our heart in that for better or worse kind of way? Can we promise our love and loyalty, no matter what? And the plot continues to thicken in that if long for permission to be unwaveringly authentic about ourselves and expect others to share themselves openly, we better be able to take it the truths that come our way. If we purposefully choose honesty, candor and transparency as the way we want to engage with those we love and care for we need to be ready, willing and able to absorb others being equally unedited with us. Can we manage with grace and dignity to absorb the input, evaluation, and assessment of ourselves that comes from those we love and respect? Is the need to improve ourselves seen as an unwelcome critique or an encouraging calling to do better and be better?
This is a strange subject because I have FAR more questions than answers. One of my favorite authors Brene Brown says that showing up with and sharing our whole story is one of the bravest things we will ever do. I wholeheartedly agree. I just wonder sometimes if, in fact, I am brave enough. Then I think on the notion that bravery is contagious. Every act of courage seen has the power to inspire another to be brave enough to live fully and freely. And when we think on this we realize that we have no choice but to choose well and right. To choose to be COMPLETELY honest with ourselves, about ourselves and to encourage and expect the same of others. It quite simply is how we earn a life we love.