“We all lie like hell,” says Dr. Brad Blanton in his book Radical Honesty. “It wears us out…it is the major source of all human stress. It kills us.”
July 7 was Tell the Truth Day, an unofficial holiday that encourages us to be honest, even if it’s inconvenient. We were all taught as kids to tell the truth, and most of us hold honesty as a highly esteemed virtue.
Because lying kills us, right?
Maybe so, but honesty can be just as lethal. Telling the truth is often an excuse for touting reprehensible opinions that are damaging and offensive to others. Sure, it can feel great. Dr. Turndorf in Psychology Today says, “It’s like taking an emotional poop.” Her analogy is disturbingly accurate.
We are pooping all over each other in this country.
“Diversity destroys nations!”
“Diversity improves corporate performance!”
“Black lives matter!”
“Black lives contaminate Western culture!”
The so-called “honest truths” we espouse and impose on each other are as varied and as oppositional as their spokespersons. And the more adamantly one truth is proclaimed, the more fiercely its opposite is launched.
Where does this divisiveness end?
I have no clear answer. But I do observe that honesty, by itself, is most assuredly killing us. It seems to me that for honesty to heal rather than harm, it must be accompanied by at least two other personal attributes: integrity and intellectual humility.
Stephen Carter, in his essay “The Insufficiency of Honesty,” reminds us that honesty and integrity are by no means synonymous. While honesty is too often used as an excuse for hurling unacceptable and hurtful opinions at one another, integrity considers the impact of those opinions.
According to Carter, integrity is a much “thicker” concept than honesty. It involves three steps:
1. Discerning what is right and wrong.
2. Acting on what we have discerned, even at personal cost.
3. Communicating openly that we are acting on our understanding of right and wrong.
When I express my opinions, I’m undoubtedly displaying honesty, in that I’m expressing what I actually think is true. But if my opinions are hurtful, I’m not displaying much integrity, not having considered that my deeply held views, no matter how genuine they may be, might actually be wrong and cruel.
Intellectual humility is the willingness to admit that we don’t know the real truth about something. It’s allowing room to grow and learn. In my YouTube show this week Waking Up, I speak about the need for me to awaken to the privileges of my “normal” white, middle-class life.
Intellectual humility is essential for learning and growing. It’s also darn difficult for at least two reasons:
My notions of “truth” are rooted in my history with similar others. Over time, we take our perceptions and beliefs for granted as the truth, making our collective ignorance invisible. Only rubbing up against others who do not share our beliefs will open us to our cognitive blind spots. And that can be mighty uncomfortable.
Even when our blind spots have become visible, we need to summon the courage to say, “I was wrong.” We must learn to celebrate those powerful words.
Social media makes it easier than ever for us to spread false and hurtful information. My wish on this Tell the Truth Day is that we might all grow into more intellectually humble, curious people, with the integrity to not only tell the truth, but to live it from our most vulnerable core.
“Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth-telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.”
― James E. Faust