Is honesty always the best policy?
My entire life, I’ve operated under the impression that it is.
I mean, except for when circumstances warrant a more subversive approach. Like when your parents ask you what you did on your date. Or someone asks you when you’ll be done with your thesis. Or your roommate gets all curious about where you spent the night. Or whether or not you’ve sent the check. The answers to these things should be left to the discretion of the liar, and often just spare both the questioner and the questionee a host of unproductive feelings, including judgment and defensiveness.
But when it’s important, like talking to someone you care about, I still think that honesty is the best policy about 95-100% of the time. You should be honest about your desires and your frame of mind. You should be honest if you’re hurting. You should be up front about potential pitfalls in a relationship. You should tell people how you feel, especially if it conflicts with how they feel.
Sometimes it’s not necessary to be specific, though. I am a chronic over-sharer, especially with people I’m comfortable around. It might be endearing on some level, but it might also be incredibly off-putting. My problem is that I don’t know where to draw the line.
So I don’t draw one. If I like you, and I feel like you have my best interests at heart, I’ll tell you everything. I’ll tell you my social security number and my mother’s maiden name. I’ll tell you my bank password. I’ll give you my medical history. I’ll also tell you all the ways in which I might be bad for you. I’ll tell you my strengths, but warn you not to hope for the best from me. I’ll tell you all of my failures, even the ones that haven’t happened yet. I’ll elaborate in detail on the ways I could be wrong about most things, and how I fear so very many experiences these days. I’ll basically draw you a picture of how hard I am on myself every single day.
So, is that honesty?
I think the hope is that you’ll like me anyway. If I set the bar low, people are less likely to be disappointed in what they find. All that really means is that I want to shine in your mind, and in MY mind the only way to do that is to put myself down and then prove myself better.
But is it honest?
I’ll tell you, for example, that I race bikes, but that I suck at it. I’ll tell you I ran a marathon, but that I was slow. I’ll tell you that my job as an archaeologist isn’t as cool as it sounds. I’ll tell you about my failings as a writer, as an artist, as a creator.
The facts are these: I race bikes. I ran a marathon. I’m an archaeologist, and sometimes those things are absolutely, exactly, totally as fucking cool as they sound. I’m a writer. I’m an artist. I’m a creator. Why do I always feel the need to qualify these things?
Sharing things like this honestly with someone would sound different from the above narratives. Honesty would look like facts and feelings. For example: I race BMX, and I love it with my whole heart. I finished a marathon and I truly enjoyed the training process for such an effort. I’m an archaeologist, and sometimes that looks like pushing mountains of paper, but let me tell you how proud I am about the landform-scale preservation project I finished that will keep ancient skeletons from eroding out of a sacred site.
One of the scariest things I’ve ever done was to get on a BMX gate. Another, far scarier thing on a visceral level was to move my little tiny family halfway across the country. I was terrified to run 26.2 miles, especially in the rain: I nearly canned that race while sitting in my vehicle that morning while the skies pissed down self-doubt. I’ve started two new jobs in the last six years, done soul-sucking interviews on Webex for those jobs and several others, and have taken on very difficult tasks and seen them through to completion. I’ve given presentations to coworkers, college students, and at professional conferences. I DO shit. I do HARD shit. That’s honest.
And still I feel a lot of fear these days, to the point that childhood insecurities are rearing their ugly heads again. I’m having trouble trying new things, and the eating-in-front-of-people issue, for some inexplicable fucking stupid reason, has come back for the first time since I was about 25. I know. It’s dumb, but it’s all back. Next I’ll be narrating my own life in the third person in my head, which she hasn’t done since she was about 12 years old. This is also honest, but maybe it’s part of the 5% of things I don’t share with people, no matter how much I trust them.
It’s the disconnection, the disembodiment, the floating loneliness. It’s the feeling that no one is in my corner, that I have no fallback plan, that the floor could fall out from under me at any moment. So even the smallest things, talking to new people, going new places, meeting people, one-on-one conversations, physically going to my office, even just sitting around a campfire with new coworkers, all of these require deep planning and consideration. I’m so scared of all of it. But I do it anyway, so does it need to be shared? Probably not. The narrative in my head is not honest, and isn’t the truth, and doesn’t need to be projected to anyone else.
So that’s a big fat YES to honesty, but only if it’s honest.
I will endeavor to be more forthright and transparent in my truths in future. I mean, if I can’t handle my own truth, who can? I will try to bin the self-flagellation and put-downs. I’ll try to remember to iterate a fact + positive feeling with everything I tell people about myself, as long as it’s the truth.
Be honest with your selves, dear Ghosts. And then be truthful with others if you choose to let them into your space and heart. Don’t set the bar low. Don’t fuck around. Just be as honest as you can.