I would rather be told a painful truth than a beautiful lie.
Honesty is such a lonely word.
Everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard,
and mostly what I need from you.
— Billy Joel, Honesty
In the workshops I facilitate, I ask all the participants to commit to two primary ground rules — confidentiality and honesty. Confidentiality means not identifying anyone who shared a story. This ground rule makes it reasonably safe for participants to openly share what they need to share in order to do the work they came to do. Honesty means knowing what you're thinking and feeling, and not witholding criticism that may end a cycle of suffering that a person is creating for him/herself and/or for others. These two principal ground rules create a safe environment where people can be real, open, honest, and free with themselves and others.
When I talk about honesty, I'm talking about impeccable honesty — not something we're used to by any means in our culture. To impress upon the participants how difficult it is to practice impeccable honesty, I tell them what a friend of mine, Tah-Weh-Dah-Qui — a Native American medicine man — said to me about honesty.
Tah-Weh-Dah-Qui has done some very austere and difficult spiritual practices that I'm aware of, and probably many more I'm not aware of. He has completed four traditional sun dances. In that, participants dance for four days and nights straight, at the end of which, two hooks are put through their chest or back, leather straps are attached to the hooks, and a buffalo skull is attached to the straps. They continue to dance, dragging around the buffalo skull until the hooks rip loose from their skin. He has done a 21-day vision quest, where he went up to the top of a hill on the Onondaga Reservation, naked, with only a blanket — no food or water — in the middle of the winter and 'cried for a vision' for his people. And numerous other practices that are quite severe.
Tah-Weh-Dah-Qui told me that of all the practices he has undertaken, and of all the practices his teachers — medicine men and elders of tribes all over the world — have undertaken, the most difficult practice, by far, is honesty! He talked about the little ways in which we are dishonest — things like monitoring our answering machines to see who is calling before we decide whether or not to pick up the phone. The impeccably honest thing to do would be to answer the phone and if we didn't want to talk with the caller, to tell him or her why we didn't want to talk with him or her. Little dishonesties like that fill our lives, if only we are willing to see them for what they are.
Because we are only accepting of pleasure in our lives, an immense amount of fear is created as we spend our lives dodging pain. We live our lives fearfully to such an extent that we live dishonestly.
There is dishonesty in any mind which demands that reality occur in a specific way.
— Beginning to See by A. Sujata
Why would one want to live a life of impeccable honesty, anyway? Let's look at the consequences of living honestly vs. dishonestly. Honesty creates trust. Without trust, there can be no real intimacy in relationship. Since being dishonest requires lying to oneself, there is a split in the fabric of our being that causes ongoing anxiety, distress, and, ultimately, disease. We feel sick in our entire self — body, mind and spirit.
When we're honest, something simply feels right and whole in our being; when we're dishonest, we don't feel right inside. And when we don't feel right, we don't act right, and this affects everyone we come into contact with, especially those we're closest to. When we're honest, others also sense this rightness about us, and want to be around us and hear what we have to say. Without honesty, there can be no wisdom, because wisdom comes from living in the truth. Obviously, there is much more to say here, but space is limited, so I'll leave it at this....
The genius of communication is the ability to be both totally honest and totally kind at the same time.
— John Powell
Another friend of mine once said, "When someone tells me they're going to be brutally honest with me, I expect them to be 90% brutal and 10% honest!" The teacher and author, George Leonard, in an interview regarding his book, The End of Sex: Towards Greater Intimacy in Relationships, was asked if we have to share everything with our partners. He replied, "We don't have to share everything — just the things that are difficult to share."
Why is it that we have such a hard time sharing our difficult truths with another person in a kind and gentle way, caring as much about the other person's feelings as our own?
Perhaps it is because we've held onto a particular anger or resentment much too long, letting it build and intensify to a point where it can no longer be contained, so that it explodes out instead of being given as a gift to the other. Perhaps it is because we're afraid of the response we might get — our difficult-to-share truth might be rejected, belittled, negated or even reacted to with hostility. Perhaps we're so afraid that we attack, out of the fear of being attacked. Perhaps it's because we don't want to feel with them, the hurt or disappointment we see in their eyes when we tell them. So, is it possible to share the difficult truths with compassion (lit. to have passion with) for self and others?
Sometimes when you're honest with me
unbidden tears rush to my eyes in my defense,
and through them
it's difficult to see you clearly.
As I pick about
in the pile of the I that seemed to shatter
with the impact of your words,
to my delight,
...and even enhanced.
It seems as if you have added a piece;
And I feel loved.
that such a gift
should be found
in such a wrapping.
— Pamela Ahrens