Honesty and relationships

Sacca pāramī : truthfulness, honesty

More from Sam Harris’s essay, “Lying”, this from a section called “The Mirror of Honesty”:

“At least one study suggests that 10 percent of communication between spouses is deceptive[footnoted]. Another has found that 38 percent of encounters among college students contain lies[footnoted]. However, researchers have discovered that even liars rate their deceptive interactions as less pleasant than truthful ones. This is not terribly surprising: We know that trust is deeply rewarding and that deception and suspicion are two sides of the same coin. Research suggests that all forms of lying — including white lies meant to spare the feelings of others—are associated with poorer-quality relationships[footnoted].

“Once one commits to telling the truth, one begins to notice how unusual it is to meet someone who shares this commitment. Honest people are a refuge: You know they mean what they say; you know they will not say one thing to your face and another behind your back; you know they will tell you when they think you have failed—and for this reason their praise cannot be mistaken for mere flattery.

“Honesty is a gift we can give to others. It is also a source of power and an engine of simplicity. Knowing that we will attempt to tell the truth, whatever the circumstances, leaves us with little to prepare for. We can simply be ourselves.

“In committing to be honest with everyone, we commit to avoiding a wide range of long-term problems, but at the cost of occasional, short-term discomfort. However, the discomfort should not be exaggerated: You can be honest and kind, because your purpose in telling the truth is not to offend people: You simply want them to have the information you have, and would want to have if you were in their position.

“But it can take practice to feel comfortable with this way of being in the world — to cancel plans, decline invitations, critique others’ work, etc., all while being honest about what one is thinking and feeling. To do this is also to hold a mirror up to one’s life — because a commitment to telling the truth requires that one pay attention to what the truth is in every moment. What sort of person are you? How judgmental, self-interested, or petty have you become?”

Mr. Harris goes on to point out that truthfulness with ourselves is a key requirement to being truthful with others. Are we in a relationship or a job that requires us to lie or cover up? Do we avoid actions or activities with evasive words because we are afraid of embarrassment or failure?

One more story from Sam Harris:
“Telling the truth can also reveal ways in which we want to grow, but haven’t. I remember learning that I was to be the class valedictorian at my high school. I declined the honor, saying that I felt that someone who had been at the school longer should give the graduation speech. But that was a lie. The truth was that I was terrified of public speaking and would do almost anything to avoid it. Apparently, I wasn’t ready to confront this fact about myself — and my willingness to lie at that moment allowed me to avoid doing so for many years. Had I been forced to tell my high school principal the truth, he might have begun a conversation with me that would have been well worth having.”

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Filed under Perfections, Speech

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