Over time, I have started to notice a regular refrain in my communication with different people; friends, colleagues and family alike. “Thank you for being honest,” they say or write amid responses to questions or thoughts they have put forward to me to think through or assess.
At first I didn’t take much notice of this trend, but it seems now, on a weekly basis, that someone says or writes this to me. And for that reason, I can no longer consider it a simple coincidence, but rather, a part of something forming within my character.
It is one of the hardest traits to pursue within adulthood because life socialises us to exercise extreme cautiousness with other adult human beings. Life will throw at you backstabbers, opportunists, bridge burners and those who are of a plainly evil disposition.
In the song ‘Forgive Them Father’, Lauryn Hill sings
Beware the false motives of others
Be careful of those who pretend to be brothers
And you never suppose it’s those who are closest to you,
They say all the right things to gain their position
Then use your kindness as their ammunition
To shoot you down in the name of ambition, they do
She goes on to sing;
A friend once said, and I found to be true
That everyday people, they lie to God too
So what makes you think, that they won’t lie to you?
These are sobering, perhaps even macabre, lyrics. But they reveal a truth about human interactions that I remain amazed that a woman of 23 had already figured out in her short journey into adulthood. I keep the words of that song close to me.
And I refer to them when they ring true from disappointments I experience with human beings. But while I remain conscious of the self-interest and machinations of the human condition – I suffer these faults myself too, of course, – I remain steadfast in my belief that we can only progress as people in relationships of whatever nature, really progress in ways that are meaningful, if we retain our ability to be honest while also open to sometimes hurtful truths.
Of course, I do not call for child-like, no-bars-held honesty; that is a sure recipe for people to exploit and feast on your vulnerabilities. And I am also not talking away white lies as we are all, at one time or the other, going to have to call in sick from work to run some private errands, or concoct some such other fallacy.
Come on, let’s be honest about that!
But I do believe that when I am asked to give opinion or thoughts on something of substantive weight (that is a subjective measure, of course), it is only decent and right to be honest. If you really care about something or someone, it is your prerogative to be honest. What comes after that honesty is simply out of your control.
I will throw a spanner in the works and say that it is only your prerogative to be dishonest when honesty will exacerbate an already disastrous or uncontrollable situation… But we’ll discuss that train of thought another day!
The only problem, of course, is that we are not socialised to be ‘honest’, or rather to fully disclose who we really are; it is a dangerous practice, because can anyone handle who we really are beneath the layers anyway? And – as I have already mentioned – laying yourself open to truth sometimes exposes you, like the intestines of wounded prey, to a pack of vultures.
So what ought you do? Allow the vultures to feast on you? Or rather, join the vultures and prey on those who cannot conform to the standard? Or maybe just keep yourself to yourself?
I choose, as many people tell me, to be more honest than most. This has cost me relationships, financial stability, opportunities and a host of other things. It has given me sleepless nights and has turned people away from me. But still, I would rather persist in this honesty than buckle under the social expectation of being and becoming that which I am not.
It is along this long dark corridor of social pressure and expectation that many have hung their coats of truth and chosen to wear gowns of deceit. It is in that corridor where plots to backstab and brew hearsay in the interests of position, acclaim, self-aggrandisement and other pursuits are hatched. It is in that corridor that the wheeling and dealing of souls is conducted and the ego inflates, bloating up to fill out the empty spaces within.
It is in that corridor that we choose what we become.
I don’t write all of this to sit on a moral high horse or to seem perfect, because I know that sooner or later, I will also be exposed for my own misdeeds. We are all fallible and the truth is that we humans are a mass of contradictions. Our motives shift, views change, circumstances evolve. We are never fully the same person we were or are, or will become.
And that, my friends, is about as honest as it gets!
However, if nothing I have said is comprehensible or even plausible, I wish to leave you with this lesson I continually learn; Honesty is all well and good, but it has to start within. If you cannot be honest with yourself, you can never offer this to another person. It is a hard proposition, I know. Sometimes, the easiest person to run away from is yourself.
But yet, it is only in such honesty that we find who we really are, and more importantly, who everyone else really is.