Of all the questions in thisseries, questions designed to provoke dramatic transformational shifts of beingand doing, the question, “Am I Honest?” may be the most challenging of themall.
Ironically enough, no one canclaim to be honest all the time • at least not if they’re being honest withthemselves. Most of us have spoken outright falsehoods. All of us have spokenless than the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, in order to protect ourown interests or the interests of others and the organizations for which wework.
The question, “Am I Honest?”therefore has two dimensions. One dimension is simply, “Am I being totallyhonest, right now?” The other dimension is more complicated, “If I’m not beingtotally honest right now, then am I doing the right thing by lying orwithholding the truth?”
More than twenty years ago, thepsychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote his now classic seminal work, The Road LessTraveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth(Simon & Schuster • New York, 1978). Peck defines four disciplines thatenable our lives to be healthy and our spirits to grow: delaying gratification,accepting responsibility, appropriating truth, and balancing demands.
The four disciplines are verymuch interrelated. One can practice all four in a single instant. Nevertheless,Peck analyzes each individually in order to understand their uniquecontribution to human evolution.
Appropriating truth begins withdedication to reality. It does not help to pretend that life is not what it is.Yet most of us are content to live with outdated maps, ignoring or denouncingthose who would seek to update our maps on the basis of new information ortechnology. We get set in our ways and resist any suggestion of change.
Once we open ourselves toreality, even if reality challenges our accustomed ways of being and doing,appropriating truth continues with the honest communication of that reality toothers. At the very least, Peck suggests that we adopt the practice of nevermaking a statement that we know is false. This applies not only to the words wespeak but also to how we speak them. “Do I know Michael Jordan?” can mean, “Iknow Michael Jordan very well!” depending upon the tone and body language ofhow we say the words.
“Lying,” Peck observes, “is anattempt to circumvent legitimate suffering and hence is productive of mentalillness.”
Once we develop the will andthe discipline to never utter a known falsehood, Peck challenges us to becomejust as scrupulous in those gray areas where we speak some but not all of thetruth. Withholding a portion of the truth can be just as misleading, andsometimes even more misleading, as speaking an outright lie. Nevertheless, weall find ourselves in circumstances where “confidentiality” demands that we notreveal all that we know. This most often arises in situations where there is ahierarchy of power and responsibility.
Peck challenges us to recognizethe withholding of truth as a form of lying that takes a toll on our soul. Assuch, he urges us to be sure we have good moral reasons for withholding thetruth and to minimize the frequency with which it happens. Peck offers thefollowing guidelines:
“The decision to withhold thetruth should never be based on personal needs, such as a need for power, a needto be liked, or a need to protect one’s map from challenge. Conversely, thedecision to withhold the truth must always be based entirely upon the needs ofthe person or people from whom the truth is being withheld. The assessment ofanother’s needs is an act of responsibility which is so complex that it canonly be executed wisely when one operates with genuine love for the other.”
So the question, “Am I Honest?”ultimately comes down to the question, “Am I Loving?” It goes far beyondcheating on your income taxes or keeping incorrect change. Whether it inbusiness or in the home, with your subordinates or with your children, “Am IHonest?” can keep you focused on whether or not you will strengthen or destroythe fabric of life and the growth of spirit. Never underestimate the capacityof others to handle the truth. It’s the lie that proves much more dangerous,and much more intolerable, in the end.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC