Honesty and Vulnerability

All speech based on self-concern is false or harmful speech.” Reb Anderson

You know that saying, “Honesty is the best policy?” For many years I had a hard time believing it. As a kid, when I found myself sitting in the principal’s office for something that I may or may not have done, lying always seemed better than the truth. Whenever someone told on me at school, there was usually a small chance that I could get out of my punishment, if the principal didn’t have any proof. Lying without getting caught meant I wouldn’t have detention, wouldn’t have to do extra work, and all the lecturing would stop. On the other hand, when I told the truth, I believed that the punishment would be the same as when I lied. Consequently, I saw a great advantage to lying when telling the truth was a guarantee of punishment.

My willingness to lie in these situations demonstrates a superficial understanding of the benefits that can come from telling the truth. Unfortunately, my childhood perspective is a very commonly held paradigm in our society. There are politicians, public figures, and plenty of kids like me who will deny everything in the face of accusations. A couple of method we commonly use to encourage honesty are: to offer plea bargains in the legal system; and the offer of forgiveness in religion. I’m not saying that using plea bargains, or offering forgiveness is wrong. I think there is value in these methods. However, for those of us who see honesty as a luxury to be used only when we can cut a deal, a better understanding of what honesty can do for us as individuals might help.

Unrestrained honesty demands a high level vulnerability. Best selling author, Brene Brown, speaks a lot about the power of vulnerability, standing where you are, and being seen as you are. Exposing yourself in this way, can seem extremely counter-intuitive when you face potential shame, embarrassment, or even death. In those crucial moments you need something concrete to hold on to so you can find the courage to act with bravery. It is important to understand that being honest will bring you great power because it helps you to know yourself.

The ability to truly know ourselves appears to be the “secret sauce” many of us are seeking. Do a quick Google search on personality tests and you will see what I mean. There are pages and pages of tests that will tell you who you are. Some well known examples are the color-code personality test, the Meyers Briggs test, and the MMPI test. All kinds of tests have been built to help people discover themselves. Answers to the question of who you are can be found in psychology, philosophy, religion, and self-help books. I’m even about to tell you how to find out who you are in this article. You can’t escape it! Amazingly the answer to this question can found without any outside help. All you really need to do is be honest.

It sounds simple but it is not. It takes incredible courage to expose who you really are. Those rare individuals who are willing to be completely truthful can become extremely polarizing. They don’t make excuses, they don’t shrink from what they believe, they simply state their truth. Some people will feel compelled to join them, while others may feel threatened.

Sir Thomas Moore was executed for his unwavering honesty. His adherence to what he truly believed did, however, leave a lasting impression and he has become a well respected historical figure for the bravery that he demonstrated by sticking to his convictions.

Gandhi, spent time in jail, faced ridicule and rejection from his social class, and was eventually assassinated for standing up for what he believed. However, he lived a life of peace, was respected by millions, and is celebrated as a hero to this day.

Some more recent examples from American popular culture are: Robert Downey Jr, who admitted to and overcame addiction, continues to have an incredibly successful career; Magic Johnson, who publicly faced the world and admitted he was infected with HIV, still holds the hearts of many; and Ellen Degeneres, who opened up about her sexual preference at a very difficult time in her career, has gone on to greater success than she had initially. Each of these people publicly faced significant challenges. Admitting their truth was very hard but all have since achieved a measure of peace and success that many of us desire.

Whether or not your truth puts you on death row, gets you fired from your job, divorced from your wife, or just shamed by your friends, it will quite literally set you free. The vulnerability of telling the truth is immeasurably powerful. It allows you to be seen by others. More importantly, it allows you to be seen by yourself. Once you learn who you really are, you have the power and knowledge to do and be what you want. You won’t need a personality test to tell you what you’re good at, you will know it. You will see a clear path forward and be free to follow.

Coming to an understanding of this has brought me greater confidence and peace. Can you look deep inside yourself and find the lies that hold you back? What are the stories you have told yourself to keep from admitting what is real? Do you have the courage to be vulnerable and face your truth? If you do have the courage to face your truth, believe that peace and happiness are bound to follow.

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