Honesty – Is it really the best policy?

honestyA lot of us have grown careless in what we say. “It wasn’t my fault we lost the game, I didn’t hear the whistle.” or “I was pushed over and my foot hurt.” Who has never made up an excuse to stop feeling embarrassed?

This covering up may seem harmless enough but over time a pattern of making up excuses can become an ingrained habit, a way of defending oneself against any inconvenient fact that might otherwise expose mistakes, greed, or failure.

As a way of avoiding criticism sometimes people unfairly blame others.

So if telling lies gets you off the hook why is honesty the best policy?

1. Honesty involves no wasted time and energy

Only a spurious conscience would worry about telling the odd white lie spoken to pull someone’s leg, or to give a needed compliment. However, lies that are used to defend yourself can grow and multiply and there can be a lot of nervous energy involved in not getting found out. You have got to make sure it’s a credible story that hangs together and remember what was told to whom at various times.

2. Honesty means connecting with others

Who doesn’t get irritated from time to time by other people? Like with a neighbour who has not returned your garden tool or a relative who won’t take no for an answer. Sometimes one ends up saying nothing, or saying “it’s just fine” and pretending not to mind when really one does.

Not being honest actually takes away the chance of connecting with others authentically and experiencing the satisfaction of true friendship.  On the other hand sometimes people assume that being honest means giving vent to their feelings without restraint and of course this can do much harm to a relationship.

What does work is to be firm with someone about your point of view without going over the top and without taking a blaming attitude. Honest communication can be clear and to the point, yet tactful and kindly meant.

3. Honesty can lead to a sense of forgiveness

If you don’t confess to someone anything you have done wrong that affects the person, how can you hope to find their forgiveness? It is difficult to forgive yourself without a sense of the other person’s forgiveness.

4. Causing harm by gossip

We have all probably enjoyed telling tales about someone behind their back when they are not around to defend themself. Sometimes what we say is true but often we give a biased version, slanting the truth to bring out an unhelpful meaning.

Unfortunately a spirit of antagonism rather than harmony develops. Chinese whispers come into play as what we say is repeated and perhaps further exaggerated along the way and our put-downs have maligned the person.

5. Honesty and reputation

Honesty in business and professional life means being true to one’s word, honouring commitments, and keeping promises. Twisting the truth, exaggerating details, deliberately changing a word or leaving out aspects of a story in order to prove one’s point, are all kinds of dishonesty.

When someone’s dishonesty gets found out they lose their reputation for being trustworthy. And once lost, a reputation is very hard to recover. This loss can even affect their livelihood. Who is going to ask for professional advice that is suspected of being unreliable or who is going to deal with a dishonest trader?

6. Honesty with yourself

When reflecting on a mistake you have made or something wrong you have done, it is tempting to believe the rationalisations that come to mind.   It is easier to secretly but unfairly blame someone else than acknowledge one’s own mistakes; nicer to indulge feelings of self-justification and even self-pity.

But self-deception means living a lie and results in all sorts of anxiety because one is not in touch with one’s inner self. What is needed is an honest self-examination to acknowledge one’s errors as well as one’s strengths.

7. Honesty with God

Adam and Eve in the biblical story, after eating the forbidden fruit, tried to evade personal responsibility by dishonestly blaming God and blaming the serpent. Just think how such an attitude might affect the authenticity of one’s relationship with God. According to religion, prayer just doesn’t work without honesty: for the truth will make us free.

8. Honesty prevents distorted thinking

The truth is often sidestepped when we are experiencing a dark mood, or a feeling of anxiety, anger, or guilt.  A distortion of what is reasonable can be an exaggerated way of seeing what is going on, or an over-generalisation unwarranted by the facts. “The plane will crash”; “I will die in the operating theatre”; or “The future is completely without any hope.”

Distorted thinking like this can result in worsening feelings of fear, fury, or despair – emotions which often result in unwise actions such as panic attack, violence, or suicide.

Better to be helped to think rationally getting a more balanced view of how things really are. For what is true has a power to rebut such distorted thinking.

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Healing presence – How to have this?

Healing presence
Carl Rogers

One of the conditions of a healing presence in counselling, according to Carl Rogers, is unconditional acceptance. The counsellor is not meant to judge the client who consequently becomes less fearful of talking about things about which he or she feels guilty or ashamed.

Some people believe that unconditional acceptance can be a healing factor also in ordinary interactions of everyday life. For them this would involve practising forgiveness when someone hurts you, and giving encouragement to those who fail to show good behavior, and even not criticising those who do wrong.

But just how realistic is this approach?

Difficulty having a healing presence with certain individuals

We don’t choose our neighbours, nor our bosses and work-mates, not even our relatives. Sometimes these people are uncomfortable to live with, difficult to talk to, or they just break the normal social rules. What they do may conflict with your own interest. So just how do you adopt a healing attitude irrespective of their behaviour?

Taking turns helps create a healing presence

One answer might be to do with the spirit of give and take. Children learn to take turns in throwing the dice in a board game. Adults resolve awkward situations in a similar way for example by taking turns with friends to pay for a round of drinks in the pub or taking one’s turn in the checkout queue at the supermarket. But this isn’t unconditional acceptance. You can have your turn on the condition I get my turn too.

Sharing helps create a healing presence

Children also learn to share things. They might share a toy. Each individual gets a slice of the cake. Restaurant staff often share out tips customers have left. When you come to think of it there are innumerable examples of how people practise sharing. The social norm is we give on the understanding we also receive. But does sharing amount to giving on an unconditional basis?

Not that people always take turns or fairly share things even in close intimate relationships.  Do you and your partner fairly share the responsibility of earning money, doing DIY, making social arrangements, maintaining the garden, looking after the children etc? Or does one partner do more of the work than the other?

Do you share decision-making in financial affairs? Or does one of you actually determine more of the important choices? In other words even in close relationships there are conditions – each feels it sensible to ensure their own needs are not neglected.

How not to have a healing presence

And the notion of unconditional acceptance seems even less realistic where the relationship is fraught and where you would rather avoid the other person if it were possible, thanks very much.

The trouble is we are obliged to communicate with all sorts of people regardless of any differences of opinion or any unwillingess to co-operate. Collaboration with such a person may be a non-starter – after all it takes two to tango and however willing you are to work on an issue the other person may not be.

In trying to adopt a healing presence it is perhaps easier to say what not to do. Not jumping to conclusions about the character of the person. Not discriminating against them on the basis of social prejudice. Not rejecting the person who behaves in ways you assess as unacceptable.  And of course not showing hostility.

Pointing out uncomfortable consequences can help create a healing presence

Sometimes you might get involved with someone who turns out to be quite needy. It seems that you are doing all the giving and the other person doing all the taking. This can happen at work, with your friends, or even in the family. You seem to be giving more and more of your time to listening to their worries and complaints — time that you would have spent doing your own thing. And when you try to put some limits on what you do for him or her, this person seems very good at pressing your guilt button. You start to dread that phone call or knock on the door.

Failing to set boundaries on one’s time for this type of person will likely result in you eventually getting burnt out: other people in your life just get less of you. Giving in to the demands of such a person may not help heal their inadequacy. Sometimes healing involves pointing out unpleasant consequences or issuing a challenge.

I would suggest that adopting a healing approach to people means looking for what is good in them, rather than being preoccupied by what is bad. Recognising their strengths and good intentions rather than feeling aggrieved about their weaknesses.

Negative self-attitude hinders your healing presence

I believe there can be a stumbling block hindering this healing attitude: it is to do with one’s self-attitude. In my view you can’t forgive others until you can first forgive yourself: you can’t encourage others until you can first encourage yourself: you can’t take care of the needs of others until you first take care of your own basic needs.

“Usefulness to oneself is also usefulness to others, for to be of use to oneself is to be in a state to be of use to others.” (Emanuel Swedenborg DLW section 318)

I would say that to be a healing presence you need to accept yourself ‘warts and all’ and then you have a chance of accepting other people. Physican first heal yourself!

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems