Taking steps towards radical honesty…

Posted by on Jun 9, 2024 in Blog | 8 comments

brown wooden blocks on white surface

Have you ever been in a relationship where the person says, “I want you to be completely honest with me” and you make the mistake of believing them? There is something about complete honesty that can be very confronting. Even if we are told the “complete truth” it is usually massaged to make it a little more palatable – or at least, it is massaged if the person is a friend, but might be coldly dumped (and perhaps exaggerated) if an enemy.

I’ve been thinking through my values – the things I most truly hold to – and asked myself where honesty comes in my list. It came as a bit of a surprise to realise I have a bit of an ambivalent relationship with it. Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t go around telling blatant porkies! I’ve never claimed that in my youth I represented South Africa in rugby or cricket (though I did represent the Province of Natal as an under 10 gymnast – just saying… it’s a completely true story whatever you may think!) If I tell you I watched TV last night, you can be confident that is what I did.

So when does it shift into the grey area?

For me, it’s when opinions are being expressed or feedback is sought. I value a peaceable existence, but I am a free thinker, and am often conscious that if I were to express my views candidly, it would lead to upset, hurt and endless explanations. I usually then simply zip it – and say nothing. Alternatively, I might give a vague reply (I try to avoid blatant untruths) and shift the focus of the conversation.

No, I don’t always do this, and there are many times when I am completely candid and happily dive into robust discussions where disagreements are explored and thought through. Usually those are with people I trust deeply, knowing that our relationship is never up for negotiation, though how we think about some things might be.

Why don’t I always do that?

Sometimes I simply couldn’t be bothered and rationalise that it would be a waste of time, but in my review of my values I challenged myself: “What is it I can’t be bothered about? The topic, the relationship, or both?” That’s not always as easy to answer.

Sometimes it is a lack of courage. I have to face the fact that I believe some things that I am not brave enough to stand up for. That’s a work in progress for me. I’ve heard many sermons that are very critical of Peter’s denial of Jesus shortly before his crucifixion. Actually, I understand why Peter was afraid. When public opinion turns against you it can be ugly. I had a few encounters with it back in the days of Apartheid South Africa, when I was more outspoken about that evil system than the company I was with found acceptable. It’s pretty alienating… and sometimes its more than that. Sometimes it is easier to say you should stand up for what you believe than it is to do it. And if that’s not the case for you, be grateful, and less judgmental of those who are in a different situation.

It’s not necessarily about courage – sometimes it is about confidence. Why push hard for something when you might be wrong? True – but it is when we allow a view to be tested in the court of public opinion that we get a better sense of if it’s likely to be valid or not. And why does it matter if you are proved wrong? Better the minor embarrassment of that than holding on to a faulty view.

If apathy, fear or lack of confidence might be one cluster of reasons, there is another that for me is more common, and more complex.

In thinking through my values I placed kindness right towards the top. Kindness, like love, covers a multitude of sins. You may say, “This meal tastes great” while inwardly you are thinking, “Can I slip some to the dog without anyone noticing?” That untruth is in the realm of the minor, but what about those times when truth is very confronting – even devastating. How do you answer when a father asks: “Do you think I have been a bad father? My children don’t want anything to do with me. Was I really so bad?” And you know that he was never there for them, that he repeatedly cheated on their mother, that he put his work far ahead of family. The candid answer is: “Yes, you were a terrible father. I’m not surprised your children want nothing to do with you.”

But can you simply say that?

I can’t… not without finding some way of softening it or providing some tiny lifeline of hope. When does softening become a lie, and when is being truthful simply unkind?

One thing my values exercise is teaching me is that not all values are equal. There is a bit of a hierarchy. For me, I rank kindness more highly than the total truth. But it is complicated, isn’t it – for we don’t know when something which seemed kind in the short term, will turn out to be terrible as the years roll along, with underlying issues never being addressed.

All this is a public agonising about my very much “in progress” journey towards radical honesty. On a podcast I heard at the gym (my way of saying, I’m not sure which one – it got lost in the blur of trying to regain my breath) the person interviewed spoke about her journey away from Mormonism, and how she had come to realise how often she lied to justify aspects of what she felt that version of faith required of her. In embracing a new way of living she had committed to radical honesty and suggested three steps that need to be taken to achieve it.

Step 1 is to notice how many times you lie. What is a lie? OK – there are so many answers that can be given, but her answer was: When I got to the end of each day I thought through the day’s experiences and what I had said, and I noted down each time I had either directly lied, or misled through the provision of partial information, or careful edited what I was saying so that I would look good. There was always a long list. But my first step was simply to notice it.

Step 2 is to chose silence rather than saying anything untrue. She said she had always been a chatty person, but in her journey to radical honesty she discovered that she needed to be silent more often. Much of her conversation was to make people think well of her, and so she would give the impression that she knew far more about things than she actually did. They weren’t 100% lies, but they were very misleading. She started to embrace silence as a friend.

Step 3 is to build relationships of such love and kindness that radical honesty is simply part of genuine love. When you know you are deeply loved, you know that truth is not a weapon used against you, but that the person speaking it is offering it as a gift and is facing it together with you – because no matter how ugly the truth might be, they are for you – not against you.

Naturally all this has set me thinking about one of the startling claims of Jesus. You might know John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It’s interesting that Jesus talks about truth in the context of relationship. “I am… the truth…” If truth is a person, this third step is the critical one in the journey towards radical honesty. Simply stated (though not necessarily as simply done) the next step in the journey towards radical honesty is deeper, more loving, and more forgiving relationships. And that is best done in the context of radical friendship with Jesus, who boldly makes the claim of being the truth, and then helps us to be true in our dealings with others.

Hope this week finds you taking some steps forward in this journey.

Nice chatting…

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8 Comments

  1. Thank you Brian!

    • Thanks Phillip. Enjoy catching up on some of the great work you are doing through seeing some of your LinkedIn posts.

  2. Thanks Brian. Loved your messages at Cooby last night and this morning. They were like the sound of a bell ringing, with crystal clear clarity. Thank you.

    • Thanks Geff. I always value the times I get to preach at Cooby. Such a great group of people.

  3. Thanks Brian, a challenging article. I have sometimes felt dishonest about keeping quiet and other times claimed that I did not understand or felt confused.
    Other times I have kept silent when a misunderstanding of a biblical truth is expressed as it is not the best time to speak out. Of course, if it is something major I endeavour to speak lovingly and gently but other times of something less important, I just let it go.
    I also think that sometimes I hide in silence so that others do not think badly of me – rather misleading.
    I agree relationships of love and kindness is important and really appreciate it when someone speaks to me about something that I have done or said that is hurtful, untrue or insensitive. I value that friend and think of the verse in Proverbs 27:6 “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.”

    • Thanks Ruth. I identify with what you say. It is complex.
      I was challenged a little while ago when I heard someone say that they had chatted to me about something and I agreed with them. Actually, I didn’t agree with it at all, but hadn’t challenged what they said (they are one of those people who are very hard to interrupt!) and they then interpreted my silence as agreement. Oh the assumptions that get made…

  4. Thanks Brian I have often wrestled with this and I have got to a point where I try and stick to something I read or heard some time ago and that is “You can be right or kind. When you are kind you are always right” I don’t know if you agree with this but I feel that we never know what the person that we are talking to may be going through and that if the truth has to be told, it can be done in a kindly manner.

    • Great insights there Ian. I think in terms of the 3 T’s – Truth, Tone and Timing. We need to make sure all are in alignment. Sometimes in a crisis this is more difficult.
      Great to hear from you!

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