Life Coach Magazine

What Is Honesty?

By Gjosefsberg @gjosefsberg

HonestyI hate it when someone starts out a sentence with “to be honest” or “honestly”.

To be honest, I’m just using this site to make money and don’t really care about any of you.

Seriously?  Starting out a sentence with something like “to be honest” implies that you haven’t been honest before.  It says you’ve been lying and dishonest up until now.  At least that’s what it says to me.  But does it really?

Most people use this figure of speech to emphasize their honesty or to say they’re being especially honest right now.  They’re saying “well, I know you sometimes doubt me but now I’m making a special effort to be extra honest”.  Does this make sense ?  Can you be somewhat less than extra honest and still be honest?  Can you be different levels of honesty at various times and still consider yourself honest?

Struggling Through Honesty

I’ve struggled with this at various times because I’m very sensitive to the feelings of those around me.  I wanted everyone around me to feel happy and so I would hide the truth from them.  I would tell my employees “no, you’re not really doing a bad job, we’re fine” even thought they did something really stupid.  I would tell my friends “well, I’m sure it will work out” even though I thought they were being ridiculous.  I would even tell my ex lies to smooth over all the little things I thought might mar our happiness.  Stupid you say?  Except you do it too.  They’re called little white lies and everyone seems to use them at one point or another.

I got tired of the little white lies.  They never helped and they only served to get me into more trouble.  One little white lie led into another and it was difficult to keep them all straight in my head.  It got to the point where even the smallest of white lies (“no, you really look great in those pants”) would cause me to go into a paroxysm of guilt.

The problem was one of a slippery slope.  You know the slippery slope issue, right?  One little thing which sounds perfectly reasonable leads to another little things which still sounds perfectly reasonable and then another and another and so on and so forth.  It gets to the point where you start out with a little white lie and you end up testifying in a murder case.  Well, it never got quite so bad but I was struggling with where to draw the line.  What lies were acceptable in exchange for easier social interaction and which were not?

Radical Honesty

So then I experimented with radical honesty.  This philosophy calls for absolutely no lies.  ZERO untruths. You must tell the truth at all times with no exception.  I liked this idea, at least in theory, but the execution seemed a bit flaw.  Adherents of this philophy seemed to use it as an excuse to be complete and total assholes.  Yes, they would tell the truth at all times but they would also spout off anything that went through their heads.  All thoughts seemed to be externalized with no regard to the feelings of the person in front of you.  It was an interesting experience but not one I wish to repeat.

I did however learn something from it, which is, it’s not lying to hold something back in your head when it has no value.  The adherents of Radical Honesty believe that not saying something (lying by omission) is bad.  they spout off anything that goes through their heads (“hi, I’m looking down your shirt right now!”)  I think lying by omission is bullshit.  Yes, there are some things you should say out loud and others you should keep to yourself.  If what you have to say may have value to other people then by all means, say it.  Otherwise, keep your mouth shut.  I don’t need to know everything that goes through your head.

Between Two Extremes…

That valuable lesson aside, it seems to me that there is a happy medium between these two extremes, one where you can tell what’s on your mind without pissing off everyone around you.  I was seeking this happy medium when I ran across two happy coincidences.

The first happy coincidence was a book by Robert Heinlein called Stranger In A Strange Land.  Excellent book by the way and a science fiction classic.  The main plot of the book is unimportant to my point but there’s a scene in the book when a “professional witness” (someone paid to testify to the truth of things) is asked “what color is that house up on the hill?”  Her answer was “the side facing us is white”.

Think about that for a second.  She didn’t say the house is white, she said the side facing her was white.  She did that because she was trained to only tell the truth and nothing but the truth.  Is it a safe assumption that the other side of the house is white?  Probably, but she didn’t know that for a fact and so she couldn’t be sure it was the truth.

The second, somewhat less happy, coincidence was post divorce therapy.  As I struggled with my depression I talked to a therapist who helped me come to terms with what had happened.  Many times during our session I would say things like “she was thinking this…” or “she did this because she wanted…” in regards to my ex.  My therapist would correct me and say “wait, was she really thinking that?  Do you know that for a fact?”  The answer was always no.  Those weren’t things I knew for a fact, they were assumptions on my part.  When I separated out what I knew from what I was assuming, a very different picture emerged.

And that to me is honesty

Honesty to me is all about giving people valuable information and separating out what you know from what you assume.  Being honest means telling everything and not holding back anything of value.  It means differentiating between facts and assumptions.  If you come up to me and tell me “Gal, it seems to me like your blog is setup to make money which conflicts with your mission of educating people” that’s being honest.  This is valuable information since I value the opinions of my readers.  It’s also fact as opposed to fiction since you’re saying “it seems to me…”  You didn’t say “your blog IS…” or “Gal, you ARE…”.  You have no way of knowing what my blog is setup to do or what I am trying to do.  You do however have a very valid opinion and you’re being honest with it.

Valuable information with a separation between fact and assumption.  That’s honesty!  Everything else is just noise.

Note – No one actually sent me an angry message about this blog. Thank you to those who seemed worried, but I was only using that as a fictional example. I should have made that clear



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