No, this post isn’t the beginning of a series. I mean First of All in an absolute sense. Like this post should logically go at the very beginning of my journal. Like it should the first thing people read when they meet me for the first time. Like I think there’s been some fundamental misunderstandings throughout my life that wouldn’t have happened if people had heard, and internalized this at the very beginning.
I’m honest. Honest 😉
Maybe it’s genetic, or maybe it’s the result of being raised in a family where honesty was the highest virtue. My father taught me very young that while I would be punished for all the usual misdemeanors, being dishonest would get me extra special punishment. (Note to the closet social workers among my readership: no, I wasn’t abused. Yes, like most parents my dad used corporal punishment. But it was rare, he never punished me in anger, and he never used anything other than his hand) I think I’m more grateful to him for instilling honesty in me than for anything else.
The result? You know how when you were a kid, you told little fibs? You know, it wasn’t you who took the cookies. No, you weren’t looking through dad’s special magazines. Of course you never hang out with those kids. No, you never say bad words.
I didn’t tell those fibs. No, really. I never lied. I have absolutely no recollection of ever telling a lie – big black, or little white variety – in all of my childhood. Where all of my friends would tell the story that would keep them out of trouble, I would, under questioning, tell exactly what happened. The closest I ever came to a lie was selective omission – but even that was rare. Asked point-blank whether I had done something, and I would always, but always, tell the truth.
I learned the secret to never lying -live your life as if people are watching. If you would have to lie about something, don’t do it in the first place. If my parents told me not to do something, I didn’t do it when I knew no one was watching. I didn’t do it in my mind. I just didn’t do it.
I developed a keen sense for my own honesty – if I was coming close to lying, or even keeping to myself something that I had done wrong, it would whine and claw and gnaw on my heart until it managed to worm it’s way out. I developed strong confessional impulse. I knew that the truth has a way of coming to light, and it’s always cleaner and easier when you just lay things out on the table than when you let them lie buried like land mines. The more you conceal, the more you have to watch what you say, and the more tense you become.
At this point I think a quote from the story Satan’s Children by Spider Robinson is appropriate:
Even those of us who pay only lip service to the truth know what it is, deep down in our hearts. And we all believe in it, and know it when we see it. Even the best rationalization can fool only the surface mind that manufactures it; there is something beneath, call it the heart or the conscience, that knows better. It tenses up like a stiff neck muscle when you lie, in proportion to the size of the lie, and if it stiffens enough it can kill you for revenge. […] Most people seem to me, in my cynical moments, to keep things stabilized at about the discomfort of a dislocated shoulder or a tooth about to abscess. They trade honesty off in small chunks for pleasure, and wonder that their lives hold so little joy. Joy is incompatible with tensed shoulders and a stiff neck. You become uneasy with people in direct proportion to how many lies you have to keep track of in their presence.
I learned to loathe that tensed-up feeling early. And I have attempted to live my life in a way that avoids it as much as possible. I am still an honest-to-goodness honest man. Believe it or not. The few instances in my life where I have been less than honest (I still don’t think I’ve ever told a bald-faced lie; but I’ve bent the truth rather badly on occasion, or deliberately misinterpreted questions) burn in my chest like coals, and haunt me like mocking spirits at unpredictable moments. It’s safe to say that it is far, far easier for me to tell the truth – even the unpleasant truth – than to lie.
It hasn’t been easy. I was shocked into tears the first time I experienced an adult authority figure who just assumed that I was lying, because that’s what all kids did. I’ve had to keep my mouth shut a lot, in order to spare people’s feelings. I’ve hurt a lot of feelings by being bluntly honest. Sometimes people disbelieve me for telling the truth. It’s been incredibly difficult dealing with a culture where subtle dishonesty is not only common but expected in romantic relationships. I’ve had to learn to answer questions tactfully without bending the truth, which usually involves answering a slightly different question than was actually asked (also a painful process, as I’m a natural literalist). And I’ve tried to live my life more or less transparently, avoiding for the most part doing things that I might need to lie about.
But hardest of all has been the simple fact that like the Easter Bunny, nobody really believes in my existance. They may pay lip-service to the idea that I’m honest, but when it comes down to brass tacks they assume I tell the same little white lies that they are used to telling, that everyone they have ever met has told.
And here’s where this screed gets practical: If you consider yourself my friend, grant me the honor of believing me. I may not tell you everything there is to know. I may choose silence over revealing something that would hurt you or would break a confidence – but I WILL. NOT. LIE. TO. YOU.. If I say I love you, I mean it. If I say I value your friendship, I mean it. If I say that something you did hurt a friend of mine, I mean exactly that – I don’t mean that it really hurt me and I’m trying to conceal that fact. If you ask if those pants make your butt look fat, be prepared for me to either say “yes” or to change the subject, depending on who you are and how long we’ve known each other.
A side effect of all this honesty has been an aversion to gossip, because listening to and telling other people’s stories is such fertile ground for secrets and lies. I try not to talk about people behind their backs. Honesty does not mean I tell everyone everything I know. If you tell me to keep something confidential, than you can bet that the furthest it will ever travel is to my wife, and even that far only in rare cases. The only possible exception is if I judge that what you tell me reflects some kind of iminent threat to you or someone else. Nonetheless, with the exception of things said strictly in confidence, I may sometimes, with great trepidation, tell my friends things I know about you if I judge it to be for the best. That doesn’t mean I’m going to tell people about your drug habit. It means that if I have a friend who is interested in you romanticly and she previously had a bad experience with a drug addict, I may advise her against it. Basically, I try to excercise the same good judgement that everyone does, and as always it’s a bit of a juggling act.
But the bottom line is this: If I say something to your face, I mean it. If you believe something you heard contradicts it, then there is a misunderstanding somewhere along the line. I take my friendships very seriously. My normal urge to be honest and open is only strengthened in the presence of people I consider friends. I know it’s difficult to believe, but please, if you have any respect for me at all, believe this: I’m honest, to the very best of my ability.