Monday, March 08, 2010

Honesty & Trust

Webwriting blog post - Feb. 13, 2010

Ask nearly anyone to give you a list of attributes of healthy relationships and these two words are bound to be near the top. I’ve decided to take a little closer look at them.

Some questions that we may each want to consider …

* Is honesty black and white?
* Is it always the best policy?
* What about “little white lies”?
* Is there anything that justifies lying?
* Where do we draw the line?
* If we lie, how do we trust that others are telling the truth?
* Are there drawbacks to being honest or trusting?
* Since each of us will feel the pain of betrayal at some point in our lives, how do we heal and move forward when it happens?
* And, oh, what about diplomacy, discretion, politeness and tact?

The Honesty Scale, if you will, extends from “The Chronic Liar” (CL) to “Open Mouth Insert Foot” (OMIF). (I tend to fall into the arguably less-than-healthy OMIF category.) Along this scale are degrees of honesty where each of us tend to hover. When it comes to close relationships (defined subjectively as connections with the people we choose to allow beneath our “surface”) honesty and trust become much more crucial—and complicated.

*An aside: I’m going to limit my comments to adult-adult relationships (partially because I have no children, but also because I don’t want to open the Santa-Claus/Easter Bunny can-of-worms.) Between adult participants, acting in an honest and trustworthy manner--and our willingness to trust--are choices.

Most of us hate being lied to, right? Within close relationships though, situations will arise where we are tempted to lie to people we care about. The usual excuse is “to protect [our person’s] feelings.” I argue that--more often than not--the actual reason for these lies is because sometimes telling the truth is uncomfortable. It makes us face--and perhaps feel guilty or ashamed of--our human shortcomings. Rather than admit our mistakes and expose our vulnerable emotional underbellies, we “sugar-coat the truth,” tell a “white lie,” or exaggerate. After all, we rationalize, “What they don’t know can’t hurt them.” I don’t know that there is an adult on the planet who hasn’t done this at some point. Here is something I have learned: In our close relationships, telling the truth with sensitivity, especially when it is difficult to do so, can be key to deepening intimacy.

Healing from the betrayal of being lied to is something all of us will face at some point, and each will do in his or her own way. Feeling the emotions of anger, fear, and resentment are natural and understandable, and for some, can be crippling. As one of my favorite teachers says, “We will all go through the Valley along the way. The thing to remember is: Don’t set up camp there.” It has taken me a long time to realize that we are all fallible and sometimes make hurtful mistakes. Forgiveness is something I practice for my own peace of mind. My version of forgiveness is not a condoning of behavior, but a process of clearly setting boundaries, then releasing and moving forward. Is it easy to trust again when we have been hurt? No. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

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