“Hey! I’m just telling the truth!” Welcome to the Dark Side of Honesty.

In 1979 at the age of 15, while living on his Ashram in Pune India, I asked a question of my Guru.

“How do we stay true to our own honesty and still be sensitive to other people’s feelings?”

I don’t remember the whole answer but the gist of it was that we are all responsible for our own feelings and deciding that we are ‘being hurt’ by others is always a choice and a reflection of our own insecurities. If someone feels hurt, that is their pain for them to own and deal with.

I took the answer and agreed with it in principle but I still had to figure out how to apply it in my life with the people I related to and cared about. This has proved to be a lifelong challenge and is still a work in progress.

What I have discovered is that there is so much more to honesty than just telling the truth. We have to also have integrity, authenticity on many levels and also vulnerability if we are to be sensitive to others while ‘telling it like it is.’

Being honest is a favourite tool of passive aggression and can be used to intentionally hurt or diminish another while hiding behind the veil of perceived truthfulness. Everything from “yes honey, actually your bum does look big in that” to “I can’t keep it in any longer, I am seeing someone else” can be a way of punishing and controlling another, especially when we know they are vulnerable or fragile. We all tell white lies to children or anxious friends and relatives because we love them and care that they don’t worry unnecessarily. We are protecting them. We also restrict and monitor ourselves in relationships to ensure we don’t push buttons or activate triggers. this is a strategy to protect ourselves from the consequences of ‘authentic behaviour.’

There are schools of thought that promote absolute authenticity as the only way of living an honest life. But authentic to what?
Ourselves, our partner, our children, our community, country or spiritual practice? Can we always override those around us so that we get to be honest and ‘authentic?’ Is that utterly selfish and if it is, is that ok or not?

In the end, it must come down to our intention. The conversation we can have with ourselves is, “I really want to be honest right now but why do I want to be honest”? Am I doing this to manipulate and control another’s emotions or thoughts? Am I doing it because the truth needs to be heard, the wound healed and the connection deepened, or because I don’t really care as long as I get to unburden myself and speak my mind freely?

If we can be honest within ourselves first as to our intention, then we can make a decision as to how, or if at all, we need to confess, judge, inform or enlighten someone else. That is true multidimensional authenticity, that is how we be true to ourselves, remain clear in our heart and soul and still take care of others and their feelings.

I believe it is important to remember that being authentic starts with our behaviour, not our words. If we betray someone’s trust, that is the issue we face. keeping it a secret is just a strategy, neither good nor bad. The act of betrayal, the lie, the conceit is where we lose integrity, where we become inauthentic and that is what can create pain and suffering in others, not the secret itself. Attempting to heal ourselves through so-called honesty and ‘coming clean’ have nothing to do with being true to ourselves.

So Honesty has a light and dark side, depending on our reasons to keep quiet or not and on our taking responsibility for how we feel first about what we are communicating.

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