Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Is truth synonymous with honesty?

Recently, one of my esteemed students asked my opinion about the following statement "Truth is not synonymous with honesty." Anyone who knows me, knows that truthfulness is extremely important to me in relationships. So, I really mulled over this statement, had a flurry of emails on this topic with my venerated Oklahoma correspondent (Roxie), and even consulted a couple of books (e.g., Enough is Enough by Jane Straus).

This is what I keep coming back to...I try to live my life by being truthful AND kindhearted. Sadly, people can use 'brutal honesty' to hurt others. As Roxie said, “I have long thought people who love to say things like, ‘Oh, I am just a straight-talking person’ or ‘I call it like I see it’ or ‘I believe in being brutally honest’ are often pretty unkind people who use the virtue of honesty as club to beat out their aggressions, then sweetly say, ‘Oh, that's just how I am--honest to a fault’.

I agree with her comments. People may be completely honest in what they say, but they may not be truthful about their intent. Their true intent may be to use ‘honest’ statements as a way to make others look bad, to elevate themselves, and/or to hurt others’ feelings. Conversely, I may not be 100% honest with someone so as to stay ‘true’ to who I am and the feelings I have for the other person. As an illustration, a friend asks me if I like the tie she bought me, yet I don’t really care for the tie. The truth is that (1) I care for that person, (2) I appreciate the thought that went into the gift, and (3) I want to validate that person and her thoughtfulness. So, my answer comes from those truths. Hence, I say, “Thank you for the tie. It is very appreciated ... but, of course, I would love any gift that comes from your heart.” And THAT is the truth.

Even though I live my life to be a very truthful person, it does not necessarily mean I HAVE to be 100% honest about everything I think. As an illustration, my friend buys a new car that I do not particularly like. However, I am not going to just offer, "I don't like your car." The truth is, I can appreciate his excitement about his new car, and hence, I can join in on his enthusiasm and joy.

After my initial post on this topic, I got an email from Jane Straus, author of Enough is Enough (surprised the heck out of me). In her email, Jane made some very insightful comments. She stated, "People often claim to be withholding truth to spare someone else's feelings when the real reason is that they're afraid of rejection or abandonment. In my 25 years as a personal life coach, I've heard many a husband or wife who has had an affair try to convince me and themselves that their motives are loftier than they are. Once they do tell the truth to their spouses, which is what I encourage, their partners invariably express that the hurt isn't from learning the truth, it's from being lied to in the first place. Telling the truth is a sign of respect; it's an acknowledgment that the other person is not too delicate or fragile to hear the truth. Truth is intimate. It is an invitation to build greater trust. Ultimately, truth is a high form of love."

I think Jane makes some very compelling statements (which will probably make you want to read her book). To extend what she is saying, I think people often use "I just want to protect his/her feelings" as a rationale for not being truthful. Yet, the TRUTH is, they are simply trying to justify actions they know are inappropriate. Similarly, some people may keep things about their past a secret from their loved ones, again using the justification "to protect his/her feelings". The point is, these people are intentionally hiding truths (or stated more directly, being deceitful), and as Jane discussed above, not being truthful shows a lack of respect and love for one's partner.

For me, some of the truths I live by are: (1) be both honest AND truthful at the same time, (2) do not use "protecting another's feelings" as a way to justify deceit, (3) do not be blatantly honest at the expense of others, and hence, (4) treat people in the way you want to be treated.

I want to end with an excerpt from Jane's book: "Commit to being truthful in all you say and do...Truth is a complex blend of honesty mixed with compassion and vulnerability. When you are 'brutally honest,' you are expressing your judgment but not expressing your truth. Your spirit knows the difference between truth and honesty. When you express your highest thoughts and intentions, you are able to live a true life, not just an honest one."



Roxie said...

I still think I disagree with the basic definitions. I guess it is the Concrete Thinker Roxie With Her Not-Quite-Fundamentalist-But-Almost Upbringing that still stubbornly resists the idea that truth itself is that complicated. I think it is absolute. My belief is more that Our ability to understand and especially to articulate Truth is a complex blend of honesty mixed with compassion and vulnerability. Which surprised me. I did not know that about myself. I like to think of myself as a pragmatist, but I guess I really am idealistic, still. Dang it. (sigh)

But, Hey~! I got a mention on the Plunk Blog! Woo-hoo!

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Timpanist said...

The question in your post, "is truth synonymous with honesty?", arguably isn't the correct question. The question, I think, is more appropriately phrased, "is truth consistent with honesty?", which limns a more complete relationship between the two. Synonymous merely means two words describing the same condition such as "satirical" and "sardonic". An honest answer is one that contains fact. Truth is a condition that distinguishes fact from fiction. Honesty is an aspect of truth, not the same as truth.

Here's another question for you, professor. Is religion consistent with God?