Honesty Being Authentic

Honesty Being Authentic

Honesty Being Authentic

By Esther Watt - LifeWorks Personal Development Trainer

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive"

- Sir Walther Scott

Are any of us really honest? Honesty is a value to which we all ascribe, and very few of us would feel comfortable saying to friends or acquaintances "I'm sometimes dishonest", or "I'm sorry, but I was actually dishonest about that," or, "I lied to you yesterday". Instead, we often work very hard to justify actions we ourselves are uncomfortable about. How and why do we justify those "white lies"- let alone the "darker" ones?

We find it difficult to feel at ease with people we know have been dishonest, even when they have admitted their error. The quote above tells us that the issue of honesty is part of the fabric of life, and implies that it is not as black and white an issue as we might like it to be. In fact, honesty is far from being a straightforward issue; it is one that reveals its layers as we engage with it.

Honesty Being authentic

When situations we find ourselves in seem to get complicated, we may act in ways we ourselves don't feel comfortable about, or even in ways that totally shock us. And then, the thought of telling others what we did brings on another level of complication. Why is it that speaking the truth is so difficult? And more crucially, what is at stake when we are faced with choosing whether or not to to be honest? Could it be that society punishes honesty more often than it does dishonesty?

The existential philosopher Martin Heidegger suggests that we are 'thrown into the world', most notably at birth, at a particular historical time and in a particular cultural context. The moral codes of that specific time and place are taught to us, usually by our parents - to the degree to which they themselves have accepted their cultural norms - and then by schools and other institutions which may be part of our socio-cultural environment. We know in no uncertain terms what a 'good' person should think, say, do and even feel. We may be rewarded by others when we follow the proscribed norms. We are certainly punished when we don't.

We are biologically programmed to shy away from pain, so it makes perfect sense that if we think there will be painful consequences to speaking honestly, we speak dishonestly, or remain silent. Often, as children, we were punished for being honest in social situations when our honesty embarrassed our family, or when it exposed someone who had more power than we did. Sometimes we were punished so severely for admitting our mistakes that we learned to stop admitting them - even to ourselves.

We are also biologically programmed to feel a need to belong to a group. So, we find ourselves doing whatever it takes to avoid being rejected by the people we need most. Those people are often our partners or families, or they might even be line managers at work. If we have done something we regret, our fear of being rejected by those most important to us is huge. And, ironically, they are the least likely ones to understand why we were dishonest with them.

There is damage done by the entire context of dishonesty, and it takes sensitivity and courage in all parties involved, to understand the various angles of the situation and to disentangle ourselves from the web, e.g., the reasons behind the action that violated trust and integrity; the relationships between those involved, before the action, and after the actual or possible disclosure; the reason lies were told or truth was hidden; what we feared losing if the truth were known.

A significant part of the damage is the internal conflict created by living with a secret or a lie. When our actions violate our own ethics and sense of integrity, we become disconnected from ourselves and often resort to self-sabotaging behavior as a way of punishing ourselves or blocking our true feelings. To maintain our dishonesty we justify our actions to ourselves in order to be able to live with ourselves, but until we have come to a full understanding of our actions the issue eats away at us from inside.

Just how do we express our authentic selves, in a world that may not seem to respect our individuality? How much honesty is there in the delicate balance of truthfulness, tact, respect, assertiveness, and sense of appropriateness that we are always having to keep in mind?

It's helpful to start with ourselves. Can we be honest with ourselves about our disappointments, pain, and triumphs? Can we acknowledge our moments of fear or mean-spiritedness? How much place does propriety play in our interactions? How vulnerable can we allow ourselves to be before acting strong and saying everything is OK? And is there a place for non-disclosure?

Honesty Being Authentic

If you are looking to improve the level of honesty in your communications with a view to being more authentic, here are some tips:

  • Review your life and note the times you have been dishonest. This will help you to spot your own patterns and change the behaviours you would like to change. If your lack of honesty impacts on someone else, think about how open the other person may be to hearing the truth, and whether the support of a professional may be useful.

  • Openly acknowledge honesty in others, particularly when it is clear that speaking the truth has involved vulnerability and courage.

  • Use tact along with honesty, so as to show respect for the feelings of others.

  • Be prepared to learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of those you love, rather than sticking rigidly to ideas of how things 'should' be.

  • If speaking honestly involves speaking against the best interests of someone else, choose to be silent or to explain that you have nothing relevant to say on a topic you may be asked to comment on.

  • Develop the habit of being honest in areas that do not require much courage. Then, when more challenging situations have to be faced, it will be easier to act with integrity.

  • Give others honest positive feedback in both small and significant situations. When people know that your feedback is not only to criticize, they are less likely to become defensive when you do point out things that could have been done differently.

  • You will need to be very gentle and compassionate with yourself if you know you have hidden or distorted the truth. It is the action of the frightened child inside, and it is helpful to accept that this was simply the best you were able to do at the time. There is a huge sense of relief when you can speak freely about issues that left you in shame or guilt.

    Seek a non-judgemental, empathic and compassionate listener who can assist you in disentangling yourself from the web, integrating all you have learned about yourself, and consciously choosing a more life-enhancing path into the future. And if someone has been dishonest with you, rather than condemnation, they will need a lot of support and understanding.

    Esther Watt Lifeworks
    Esther Watt - Personal Development Trainer

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