“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne, from “The Scarlet Letter,” chapter 20
“If you’re gonna be two-faced at least make one of them pretty.” ― Marilyn Monroe
“Sooner or later a man who wears two faces forgets which one is real.” – tagline to the motion picture “Primal Fear”
One of the biggest risks—if not the biggest risk—in being honest with another person is in how the other person will use the information once you share it with him or her.
Once you tell the truth (or self-disclose), you lose control over that information. It’s no longer yours, now it’s the other person’s to use and consider, perhaps with understanding and fairness and “Love,” or perhaps to use against you, especially if deep down the person (by nature or nurture) has the habit of acting uncourageously, distrustfully, avoidantly, whenever something difficult or unpleasant comes his or her way.
So one of the reasons people lie or hedge the truth is because they don’t want the truth misinterpreted or interpreted dishonestly or unfairly by the other person and then used against them. More people would be much more honest if they could “trust” that the other person would be fair and understanding when listening and not use the truth as an excuse to run away or leave or wall up or in some other way self-protect or indulge in their drapetomaniacal tendencies. (Someone with “drapetomania” is a person who routinely and habitually acts out on the overwhelming urge to run away, and the person can’t help him- or herself [is basically addicted to the behavior; it’s a compulsive action] and has no real interest in changing what deep down the person considers to be an essential and egosyntonic part of him- or herself.)
So what is a decent (meaning essentially honest and trusting and trustworthy) person to do in an indecent world—a world like Machiavelli or Hobbes or Freud described—a world where homo homini lupus (man is wolf to man), a world where people eat each other emotionally and financially, a world where many people just don’t have good hearts, a world where the vast majority of people are utterly incapable of seeing themselves honestly and truthfully, a world where people habitually lie to themselves, a world where people claim to be loving and love others but always put themselves first and self-protect or exploit when the going gets the least bit tough? So what place in a nexus of relationships such as this does truth and honesty have when most people just can’t handle the truth (“A Few Good Men”), when most people spin out because they can’t emotionally handle intimacy and honesty?
In other words, why be honest with someone when that other person is likely not even capable of being honest with you, not to mention honest with themselves about who they are?
In order for us to be able to deal with truth honestly, don’t we first need to be able to be honest with ourselves and truth about who and what we are? Don’t we first have to have that relationship firmly in place and established?
If we can’t tolerate being honest with ourselves about ourselves and the truth of our own actions, our past, our upbringing and its effects on us—in other words, if we’re basically lost as to who we are because we’re so afraid of the emotional pain (the shame, guilt, horror, stress, anxiety, horror) and the hit to our pride (the narcissistic injury) that being truly honest with ourselves will likely bring at times, then how can we ever hope to be able to have an honest relationship with the reality and with the reality of what other people—even good people—are really like? If we can’t face and accept ourselves, we’ll always be rejecting others. Our self-rejection will be at the root of our rejection of others and our inability to deal with reality.
So what’s the solution? How is a basically decent person to live among so many indecent people? How is a basically honest person to live among so many frightened and unreflective and essentially self-deceitful and dishonest people?
So the question is: how do we live with honesty and decency in a world where others—perhaps many others—are insincere, unreflective, untrustworthy, self- and other-deceptive, and not compromise our own integrity?
Perhaps to ask and seriously reflect on this question is an important start in the process—in the process of developing and deepening one’s conscience and leading a much more examined and self-honest and courageous life.