This month's Firestarter is a (badly needed) review and reflection on How Do We Keep Honesty? I figured since February is traditionally a month for love, this time I'd attempt to achieve love of self, and gently engage in some internal reflection — always a scary proposition. :-) Fair warning: this Firestarter will make the most sense if you either re-read the original article, or open it in a window next to this one, as I did.

I suppose my internal reluctance to address my previous Firestarter on honesty is due to my recognizing that, from my very starting paragraphs, it's clear my philosophical beliefs have not actually withstood the test of reality. Did I realize my personal ambivalence even then, as I set up the (rather melodramatic, in parts) parameters under which I'd be operating while writing? I'm not sure; I'd guess not, since I think I wove some unwitting personal dishonesty right into the Firestarter as I wrote it. How embarrassing. Still, at least I've attempted repeating the "experiment" — or rather, the questions I was asking myself then. Unsurprising, I guess, that I got somewhat different results this time.

I'm afraid my definitions in the Firestarter are rather simplistically self-righteous. What I was attempting to do in the original was to define truth for myself — but I deliberately conflated "not lying" with truth, and I'm not sure that's either fair or valid. I also tried to force courtesy (a personal favorite) into the definition of truth, which emphatically does not work. As a single example, it may be wrong to betray someone in order to always speak truth — but even though it is discourteous, that does not automatically make the betraying statement a lie. It just makes it rude.

Interestingly, I have not explored the entire concept of considerate silence at all; was I so excitably verbal then that it just never occurred to me? It's a fine line, again: if I've not been asked for my opinion, my silence will not harm my companion, and speaking up may in fact harm them… is a considerate silence truly deceptive? I'm inclined to think not. Upon reflection, I'm also not sure I can state all deliberate silence, when it may well harm another, is a lie, per se. A deception perhaps, and possibly wrong? Sure. But is a lie always only spoken? How do we more precisely define deception and lies, when being deceived is so fraught with emotions such as pain and fear? No one I know of really wants to be hurt and/or lied to, after all.

Further, where do you draw the line between thoughtfully considerate silence, and malicious honesty — when you can't see the other person's thoughts? What if they were silent not to give a false impression, but rather because they didn't want to hurt your feelings? I don't even consider those possibilities; I just label them falsehood by inference. Perhaps I would be better off to simply suggest the tried-but-true old chestnut of doing unto others what you believe they wish done to them.

In regard to hurt feelings, I think that's another fine line: is it better to be always (if painfully) honest — or to always (even if deceptively) avoid hurting folks? Personally, I'd rather be unhappy for a short period due to painful but truly well-meant honesty — than wandering around in ignorance of some stupid thing I was doing wrong. I guess my personal dividing line becomes: in the long run, do I think they would rather know the something that might hurt their feelings? Also, would I feel betrayed if I weren't told, in their situation?

In regards to my blithe assumption that breaches of trust are tantamount to lying, clearly I've not defined "promoting falsehood" well enough to show how this counts as a lie or deception as well. I don't quite know how someone would protect themselves against the examples Eric gave, though, aside from simply using care in choosing friends. I do feel, for example, there needs to be trust between friends — I don't believe I should have to list all the possible means of communication when I ask them not to repeat my words. Equally, if I choose to share personal information unwisely, I'd have to say it's as much my foolishness at fault, as it is their betrayal of my trust. Ah, I can see my wistful thinking then: if only it were easy to determine trustworthiness! :-)

Re-reading, I have to laugh at my "Does this make me look fat?" example. Did I not realize my original suggestion was indeed deceptive? Shame on me. All right, let me think — what would be an honest, non-deceptive response? Perhaps something courteous but also truthful: "Hmm… I'm not sure that [name of piece of clothing] is right for you," followed by something like offering them a different piece, "Try this — it will really bring out the color of your eyes," or "You looked so much nicer in this piece here." That allows you to both be courteous, and give them a bit of positive affirmation. Of course, there's always humor as well: laugh and say, "I'm not going to answer that question! That's the Question of DOOM — and you know it!"

Regarding Issue II, about the self-deceptive person: Good heavens but I dance around the issue self-righteously! I need to come right out and say what I truly mean; I'm right on the edge of self-deception myself, there. So someone is perhaps self-deceptive — what skin is that off my nose? It's not my responsibility to smugly lead them to "my" all-hallowed Truth, especially since I doubt I know it any better than they — or that I'm any more free from self-deception.

Further, do the avoidance techniques I list really have anything to do with my keeping honesty? Instead of whining about these people, I suspect I should rather be searching internally for what I can learn from them. It's always easier, after all, to point at someone else's supposed issues… so as to not look within. I should be keenly aware of my own psychological projections in that situation — especially since, as Jung once famously noted, "Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves."

Moving along to part IV… while my caveat re disagreement not equating to being wrong is a good one, my example of creationists seriously weakens my argument. Worse, I'm thereby indirectly patting myself on the back for my "lack of self-delusion" and "sensitivity." I need to grow up a little there.

Further, I should have differentiated more thoughtfully. After all, there are self-named creationists who believe god created evolution, which I think is an elegant spiritual solution to smoothly mating religion and science… and then there are those creationists who believe the earth is flat and dinosaur bones were put there by demons to tempt us from the path of godly righteousness. It's not fair to lump them all together just for the sake of "winning" my own simplistic argument.

I notice an amusingly naive assumption in my conclusion: I state if someone has an absolute belief system that is non-self-deceptive, they are "trying their best." However… how do we know they're not lying to us about the nature of their belief system? How can we tell if it is entirely non-self-deceptive? Perhaps I should extend the courtesy of assuming someone is "trying their best" to everyone — including myself.

Ian's caveat regarding not always accepting reasoned debate is a beautiful example of my own arrogant assumptions, as well — thank you, Ian, for the wake-up call there. Ian's suggestion on personal reflection first is excellent; I wonder if writing one's thoughts out would work as well, such as I am doing here. Upon reflection, I see I've been effectively trying to implement his suggestion these past few years — good.

So… am I keeping honesty? I hope so, although I can't really say for sure. I've been more occupied, for the past few years, in trying to improve my personal self-awareness… rather than stridently insisting other people need to change their behavior for me. I do know that, like Michelangelo, "still I am learning" — and I intend to continue doing so for as long as possible. That will have to do, I suppose. :-)

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