Is “Just Being Honest” a Good Policy?
How many times have you heard someone say, “Well, I was just being honest!” in defense of some statement they made? Or maybe you yourself also use this “just being honest” policy. We were all taught as kids that honesty is the best policy, right? Being truthful is one of the values propounded by most religions as well. So, what is wrong with, “just being honest”?
Here’s the thing: honesty is good when it is with yourself. In other words, when it is between you and you. For example, I promised myself that I would stop eating sweets. So, when I’m at my friend’s birthday party, I don’t take that piece of cake. That is a good policy. Being true to yourself, and your word is very important. It builds confidence in yourself, compassion and love for yourself. Being honest with yourself also makes you a person of integrity and you can sleep peacefully at night, not having to stress out about all of the webs of lies and twisted tales you have spun. And, actually, being good with yourself is the only true way that you can be good with others.
But being good with yourself does not translate to “just being honest” with others. People often misinterpret this idea of being honest. Unfortunately, many times, what this boils down to is that you tell someone something hurtful. For example, you might tell a friend that you don’t like their cooking, or you might tell your sister that she is codependent, or your work colleague that he has a drinking problem. What’s wrong with that? You might wonder. First of all, while it may be the truth, it is hurtful. Second of all, why are you telling the person that? What are you trying to gain from telling someone “the truth”? If you think that you are going to get them to change, you are dead wrong. Changing is very difficult, as most of you know. That’s why it often times takes years of therapy and grit for a person to truly change them self. And changing another person is even a tougher battle. When we try to get someone else to change, it might happen. However, the change will typically only be temporary and superficial. The person changes to please you, but in their heart, they usually will end up feeling resentful towards you. They may think you are rude, mean, controlling, or critical, although they may never say it to your face. They might avoid confiding in you in the future, and may also take distance from you.
Take a moment to reflect. Ask yourself what is driving you to, “just be honest”? If you really look deep down inside, it usually stems from a desire to change another for the sake of our own happiness. Now that is a bitter pill to swallow, I know. You may reject what I am saying at first. But, think about how our mind works. Our unconscious logic goes something like this: “If I tell her that I don’t like _______, then she will change in the way that I want so that I can feel happy.”
There is a simpler way, you know. And it is kinder in the end. If we don’t like what someone is doing, we can change our own self. We can change our behavior, instead of trying to change theirs. For example, if we don’t like a friend’s cooking, we can offer to cook the next time, or to go out to eat together. If we think our sister is codependent, we can suggest she see a therapist, instead of trying to preach to her about her problem. Or we can just not engage with her when she exhibits codependent behaviors. If we think our work colleague has a drinking problem, we can keep healthy boundaries by not advising him. Let him take responsibility for his problem in his own way and on his own time. If he chooses not to work on it, he also has that right. It shouldn’t stop you from feeling happy.
In fact, you can find your own peace right now in this moment, despite all the dysfunction going on around you. You do not have to, “just be honest” with others in order to find peace within yourself. Give it a try. Think of a situation in which you want to “just be honest,” with another. Instead, turn your energy away from them and into your own heart. Ask yourself what is really bothering you? Figure out what you have to do in order to be peaceful without telling the other person something. Make a change within yourself. It often involves making boundaries, such as taking distance, and not advising or caregiving. See what happens. I’m curious to hear what you find out about yourself!