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When honesty doesn't feel good

It is still good to be as honest as you can be.

Do you like feeling like you were wrong?

You might know this tug on your mind. A nagging weight kicking the bottom of your stomach as it lets you know you messed up somehow.

Maybe you thought someone was nice, and they turned out to have swindled you. Maybe you thought someone was a jerk, and they ended up helping you. Maybe you spoke out angrily at someone you care about. Maybe you messed up so badly that the action that you thought was the best one seemed to have led to the worst outcome. Maybe you just answered False instead of True on an important exam.

All of these examples have something important in common: incorrectly understood reality at the moment.

Image by Ryan McGuire

A lot of the time we might ignore this feeling of having been wrong. We willfully ignore reality and allow a chosen ignorance to blur our understanding of reality. But you know what? Being dishonest with ourselves as we ignore where we went wrong will easily lead to more harm.

It might be easy to see why that is: being dishonest with yourself about where you went wrong can mislead you into making more wrong choices in the future. Ignoring your feeling of being wrong, and thereby preventing yourself from having a future that is better.

We all lie to ourselves to some degree. We aren't fully honest about something because being honest reminds us that we were wrong. It focuses our thoughts on something that may have left our lives, or the lives of others, indelibly changed. We might not like being honest, perhaps because doing so seems to help us get through our day. We might also not like being honest with others. Letting someone know they look 'good' when they don't. Telling someone they did a great job on a presentation when they really failed.

True honesty can be hard because it might not lead to good feelings—but those 'un-good' feelings could be a sign that you are focusing on an important thing to bring about change.

Emotions exist for a reason. Negative emotions can let us know whether something needs to change. If we're sad, maybe we haven't been doing the right things to nourish our mind or body and we should do something to fix that. If we're angry, maybe we haven't been doing the right thing in the past and we need to do the right thing now. Emotions can be a tool to inform us that we might need to do something to have a better life. And if we're honest, and that honesty doesn't feel good, then maybe there is something we need to change.

The consequences of not being honest with ourselves or someone else might seem trivial, but when we allow deception to exist within ourselves or with others, we add to a growing pile of deception that, when piled sufficiently high, can lead to many more negative futures than positive ones.

Snake oil products have been sold for centuries. Claims of wondrous miracle cures have pandered to millions of people under pretenses of false realities. People believed the claims and bought it up. Fake cures for diseases, like the use of leeches for blood-letting or the use of Thalidomide for pregnant women, have prevented people from seeking effective cures and even caused severe health problems instead. Back then, though it still happens now, claims of false results backed by 'science' or 'experts' can often be attributed to willful deception, devoid of actual science or functional expertise.

People lied. People got hurt because they believed, or maybe they 'had to believe,' the falsity. It doesn't matter. Deception harms, even if not immediately or directly, but...

Being honest means accepting that sometimes both enemies and friends both accidentally and intentionally lie to you.

When we can see that everyone else around us, even if they sound confident, might not be completely accurate no matter whether they are our friends, family, experts, teachers, or society, we can get somewhere.

Being honest means accepting that we are generally wrong and will never really be fully 'right.'

This notion of human imperfection is embodied in most world religions, and the concept of the inability to attain 'perfect knowledge' is even encapsulated in a famous mathematical result called Gödel's incompleteness theorem. When we can accept that we are fallible, both individually and in groups, and when we can forgive that fallibility, then we can move on to create better futures that can minimize the problems of the past.

Being honest means that almost everyone knows something much better than you do.

Sometimes it is just way better to accept that others probably understand a particular topic than we do and intelligently defer to them. Others may quite easily know more than we do about something and we might not ever have the capacity to know it the way they do. It means accepting that there are realities that we cannot comprehend and that we might just have to trust the words of someone else much more than the words we might make ourselves.

Being honest means that we must face likely truths that we might not like to see if we want to make progress.

Maybe we avert our eyes from more likely truths because they go against what our family, our friends, or our tribes believe. Maybe we associate our own identities with truths to such a degree that if we were to believe something different, we would lose some ability to believe in ourselves as individuals.

Being honest allows us to make better choices for our future.

Once we realize that the dishonesty of others or the self-preserving dishonesty we have ourselves actively prevent us from making more prosperous decisions we can start a better journey for our future. With honesty, even though we might still be a bit 'wrong,' we can more accurately see both where we are and where we can go. This general notion is nicely embodied in the Lord's prayer, which even if you are not a believer, has wisdom that can be gleaned.

Honesty is Wise

Be effective with your honesty.

Being directly or bluntly honest can make things worse. Much worse. Being so rigid with telling others 'like it is' can prevent them from ever seeing what it is like.

Maybe you don't believe something your mother said relating to chemtrails being used to mind-control people. If you told her what you maybe initially thought, that she was a quack and believed in conspiracy theories, you might do more harm than good. You could strain your relationship and prevent reasonable future communications. Such could lead her to find those who resonate with her interesting theories and only talk with them to reinforce her belief.

Maybe you messed up something in your past that leads to regret that your 20/20 hindsight allows you to see with perfectly painful clarity. Blindly focusing on that past that you can no longer change can lead to frustration and bitterness, but you can be effective in your honest appreciation of your actions. If you try to analyze the things that caused you to make the choice that you now regret, then you can do something differently in the future. You can make your life better if you are honest in what you can or cannot easily change, and use that honesty to point you to make better decisions in your future.

What might we do?

While doing our best to accurately look at ourselves, others, and the world might not lead to feelings of immediate joy, when we are effective in our honesty we can create futures that are better because we prevent ourselves from being needlessly blinded by falsities.

Being honest doesn't always feel good, not being honest can easily lead to futures that both feel and are even worse

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