Honesty is such a lonely word

I’m really sad these days. I have always been a person to believe that honesty is the best way of operating. You try to lie and then get caught in a web of lies and then no one trusts anything you say anymore. I’m sure people are rationalizing that since everyone is doing it right now, I might as well make up stories that help my cause, because the “other side” is lying as well. Well now we have absolutely no idea what is true. I don’t trust anyone in the media, especially those who are arguing the most vociferously.

I started out loving Bernie Sanders because he was consistent and straightforward, but as time has gone on, I’m questioning him as well. I still want to believe he is the most honest politician of all time, if such a thing can exist. But I am starting to wonder if maybe he has been fed misinformation by the media and the people surrounding him as well. No one is immune. Absolutely no one.

I am writing this and realizing that a blog, about my own feelings and thoughts, may or may not be based on reality. I read others’ blogs and opinion pieces and think certain points of view are valid because it fits my preconceived notions. When I read another opinion piece that disagrees with my own world view, I think they are wrong. How is one to discern the truth?

First of all, one must be cognizant that we each do have biases. And while I want to be true to myself, is it possible that my idea of the truth is based on my own particular experiences and influences and indoctrination, is it possible that I would think quite differently if I was raised and surrounded by a completely different cultural, political, and ideological environment? Would I still think these thoughts, can I claim that I am thinking for myself?

Another issue with thinking we are right and others are wrong is that our opinions and beliefs only seem to bounce around in an echo chamber of like-minded individuals, and if it does get out of the room, it is likely ignored and pushed away by those with differing beliefs. Perhaps it is the tone of our writing, no one is humble, everyone is accusing, but opposing factions are deaf to each other.

I am thinking about humility. I may be right to strive for justice and kindness, but am I better than anyone else? I want to believe that all human beings would do the right thing given the right understanding. But I know there are a lot of grey areas. There are people suffering in hidden ways, we cannot know their personal experience without actually living in their shoes. We can assume they are villains, lying about their grievances. Or perhaps we can be humble, and listen for a bit, have an open-minded discussion.

Yesterday, I discussed lessons I planned to teach about the role of propaganda in the Holocaust. I forgot something important.  You know, the popular Diary of Anne Frank? I have also read her Tales from the Secret Annex, where she imagined what it was like for the people living a normal life on the outside, while all the terrible things were happening around them. I was struck by a recurring theme in her work: Anne’s belief in the innate goodness of human beings.

Friends and neighbors, if someone who actually witnessed the rise of Nazism and herself suffered from persecution could still believe in people, I think it behooves all of us to take a look at each other as openly and hopefully as possible.

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2 thoughts on “Honesty is such a lonely word

  1. Hi nobeforenoafter! Wow, it’s been years since I commented on a blog, it feels like.

    A few thoughts…

    1. Regarding honesty, I’m not sure if it is realistic to say that it’s always the best way. I mean, we can all easily think of cases where it’s clearly the wrong way, e.g. Anne Frank’s protectors lying to Nazis about not hiding any Jews. And then there are cases where it’s clearly the right way, although it’s very interesting that examples of those cases aren’t springing immediately to mind. Every example I can think of would have exceptions. Testifying in court comes to mind, but what if it’s a corrupt court and telling the truth would lead to a monstrous judgment?

    Even in personal relationships, times for dishonesty or at least shading the truth seem to pretty prevalent. Almost all of us tell white lies, or at least lie by omission, to loved ones all the time to protect feelings, keep the peace, etc. Sometimes we’re even upset if people are too honest with us.

    Politics (at least for elected leadership positions) may even be an area where dishonesty (to varying degrees) is even more crucial. To build a coalition that makes up a plurality of voters (either of the electorate or our representatives) probably requires dishonesty. Sure, you can find majority support on many issues, but to get a majority to accept your completely honest stance on every issue? Not very likely.

    (For NON elected leadership positions, honesty may be great. Idealists can have crucial roles in causing change e.g. Ghandi, MLK, even Bernie Sanders, but they cannot really win general elections.)

    Maybe what I’m doing is the very rationalizing that you wrote about, but you make it sound like a recent phenomenon while I think it’s more built into the very system of democracy. What politician was ever successful being wholly honest (or even mostly honest?)

    I have done a lot of thinking on this subject as I became a Hillary supporter this cycle. As you know, I did vote for Bernie in the primary, but it was a close call for me. And then as I started supporting Hillary in the general, I found myself thinking more about her perceived flaws. And what I realized is that the very things that so many hate her for are the very things that are necessary to get things done in politics. The positioning, the triangulation, the careful parsing of language, the “public and private positions,” etc. Of course the problem is that voters hate that stuff and it turns out she hasn’t been good enough at hiding it. Bill could look you right in the face and make you believe, but she comes off as more disingenuous for whatever reason (whether those reasons are her doing or have more to do with viewer biases is another interesting topic.)

    David Plotz at Slate has been enlightening for me on the subject of dishonesty and even corruption in politics. He’s kind of for it. And I have to say he seems to have a point. But, coming back to honesty at a meta level, most people who believe that probably feel like they can’t or shouldn’t say it. And they don’t.

    2. There’s a different kind of honesty though which is very important: honesty to ourselves, especially in light of our biases. I think you hit on humility as a key factor, but I think it’s also important to educate ourselves explicitly about biases and then to consciously work on them. This is not an innate human skill. We have to work on it.

    It’s also good to engage with or at least read or listen to the opposition, for all kinds of opposition. Listen to and understand Trump supporters, Hillary supporters, actual Nazis, total pacifists, etc. It’s very tempting and very common to just look for a caricature or worst example of a given opposition and think of them all as that rather than coming to understand. You have to be extremely aware of your own (our own) tendency to ignore, deny, twist, turn away, etc. and consciously, constantly turn back with eyes and mind and heart wide open to try to understand.

  2. Thank you Jewish Atheist for your amazing comment! I really appreciate your point of view, of the at times necessity of dishonesty, such as in the example of the protectors of Anne Frank, but definitely something to chew on when it comes to politics. I do also love your second insight, that honesty to oneself is not necessarily innate. I’m pondering whether some people are naturally more self-reflective. But even so, are those self-reflective people truly able to be honest to themselves? Is it even possible to break through our innate biases and be open-minded? I think it is worth a try, but very very difficult like you said.

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