The Art of Honesty


It’s not that honesty can’t be found anywhere anymore. It’s that humans are rather self-absorbed. And they’re not all that interested in honesty so much as a version of truth that conforms to their own invented (or inherited (or both)) moral code or judgment.

What is honesty? “The quality of being fair and truthful,” says Merriam-Webster’s. Is that what honesty is in our world? I would argue that honesty has little to do with fairness, but truth, yes. A universal quality of virtuousness. Or something. Right?

In fact, we all know that everyone lies many times every day. It’s part of socialization. Being civil, mannered, polite. For example:

Person A: How are you today?

Person B: Well, to be honest, now that my son’s living with his father because I lost custody over some bullshit allegations of neglect because I *supposedly* go clubbing too much and I’m not home enough, which isn’t even true, mind you, he won’t even speak to me anymore. On top of that, I think I might have herpes because there are these weird things popping up on my vulva since I slept with this guy in a club bathroom a few weeks ago. And on top of that, I’m constipated as all hell, AND I’ve been avoiding having lunch with the boss because I think he might be gearing up to fire me. So all in all, I’m pretty shitty. How about you?

But no.

Person B would say, “Fine, but … well, it’s Monday, AGAIN!” *sterile, obligatory laughter all around*

It’s not even a lie by omission. It’s an out-and-out lie. Person B isn’t fine at all. She’s completely the total opposite of fine. But if she were to tell the truth, she’d have to explain why, at least to some degree, or else lie again to save face. “I’m just tired.” Again, that wouldn’t be a lie by omission but an out-and-out lie. And it’s not even a small lie. It’s a lie to avoid making another person sorry they asked. It’s a lie to protect oneself from being vulnerable to scrutiny. It’s a lie to avoid connecting. And it’s understandable.

Is it wrong that we avoid these connections? Real moments of honesty with others, even if we’re not close to them? I’m not sure. I do both (lie and tell the brutal truth), but in a counter-intuitive way.

When a grocery store clerk asks me how I am, sometimes I’ll be honest, shrug my shoulders despondently, and say, “Eh, I’ve been better.” And then to avoid him/her asking me any more questions, I’ll transition into a super interesting comment about the weather. On the other hand, if someone I care about deeply asks me how I am, I’ll often lie and tell them I’m fine even if I wish I were dead in sewer (this is hyperbole, just for the record). I guess it’s easier to be honest with someone with whom there’s no real connection anyway than it is to do the same with someone with whom there’s a very deep connection.

I say all of this to reflect on how stupid and backwards we all are. Sure, there are plenty of people who are often honest with everyone–pure souls. I might be one of them, but only on my good (bad?) days. The point is, there are kinds of dishonesty that are employed only to hurt, to take advantage of another’s trust. And there kinds of dishonesty that are employed only to protect oneself from all kinds of things, often mostly perceived. Insecurity, fear of connecting deeply with anyone, trauma, what have you.

It seems that the only universal honesty is that which you know to be true within yourself, about yourself, when no one else is looking or judging. What you love, what you hate, what you need, what you think you need, what you desire, who you are when you are alone. Everything else is, unfortunately (fortunately?), up for debate. The general rule of thumb, however, is that just because you think you deserve someone’s honesty doesn’t make it so. Perhaps that person’s truth is none of your goddamned business, or perhaps it is and you’re just never going to get it. Either way, the only thing you can do is know your own truth and be honest with yourself about it. All the other stuff is just varying degrees of bullshit.


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