I’ve been thinking recently about the idea of honesty.
Most often when we think about teaching our kids to be honest, or being honest with our spouse we think about not saying things that aren’t true. So if you ask me if I ate the last cookie and I tell you that I did indeed eat the last cookie, then I have told the truth.
The second thing we think about in terms of being honest is not failing to tell the truth. So if you never ask me if I ate the last cookie but I know you’d want to know where it had gone, then I should probably mention that I finished off the cookies. This is a deeper truth.
I grew up in a world that was pretty big on the first type of truth. If my parents asked me a question I was definitely supposed to answer truthfully – and any fudging on that truth was liable to result in my punishment!
The second one was less of an intentional teaching and more of my guilt complex, but I did not keep secrets well, because I was always worried I would get in trouble for not telling the truth.
For example, like most children back in the 1980s I walked to and from school by myself from the time I started kindergarten. But my parents were very strict about me taking the same route to and from every day – I was supposed to stick to that route without deviation and their was an expectation that I would therefore be home at about the same time every day.
Except that at one point – for a few weeks in grade four – I wanted to walk home with another girl my age on my street. And she would encourage me to walk home with her through the forest. Which was not allowed.
I told her that my parents had said I wasn’t allowed to walk through, and her response shocked my nine-year-old sensibilities. She said, “just don’t tell them.”
Well, I tried that for about three weeks I think before the fear of being found out was too much – I blabbed, so that I could get in trouble and end the terror of it all!
But I’ve been thinking recently that these ideas of honesty only take us so far.
That’s because they don’t touch on whether or not that honesty is love-based or fear-based.
My reasons for telling my parents the truth were incredibly fear-based. I was constantly worried about the punishment I was going to get. And so I told the truth because I didn’t want to get in trouble.
This kind of honesty works great – all the while you have something to be afraid of. But as soon as you realize how to avoid getting caught so that you won’t get in trouble, or that the trouble you will get into is far less than the fun or pleasure of the thing you will do, then it loses all of it’s power.
It isn’t honesty for honesty’s sake, it’s honesty for the sake of avoiding pain.
I would argue that learning to be honest out of love is a far better goal.
If I’m honest – not out of a fear of retaliation but out of a care and compassion for the person I am speaking to – then that completely changes my stance and my approach to the subject.
I tell them the truth so that they know that I care about the fact that they didn’t get a cookie.
I tell them the truth so that they know that I see that they get worried when I don’t come home at the usual time.
I tell them the truth so that they know how to plan their day and what they can expect.
It comes out of respect and a value of the other person.
And when I mess up – when I deprioritize the other person or fail to think of their needs to the extent that they needed me to – then I tell them the truth – that I was selfish or forgetful or distracted or whatever it was – so that they know that their pain is seen.
What kind of ‘honesty’ were you taught?
How do you feel about the idea of being honest?
Is your honesty fear-based or love-based?
What would change if you leaned more deeply into love?