Being honest is really important to me as a matter of honour. However, it’s not always possible, and in this post I want to flag up some of the situations in which people who want to be truthful have to be dishonest, and how we might think about that collectively.
There are many people who lie by omission because it isn’t safe for them to speak truthfully about who they are. Too many LGBTQA folk have to hide for their own safety. Anyone whose sex life and sexual identity sets them apart can feel obliged to hide parts of who they are. In some countries it isn’t safe to be honest, you can end up in prison. Society can judge harshly people who are plural and/or promiscuous. Speaking up to support people is important. Whatever consenting adults get up to should be fine. We should think carefully about the aspects of other people we demand to have hidden from us and what that might do to people obliged to lie by omission about who they are.
Disability and long term illness can lead to a lot of lying by omission. The main one is saying ‘I’m ok’ when really you aren’t, because you can’t face the hassles, positivity talks, and other expensive, useless things that follow if you admit to not being ok. Ill people do a lot of faking wellness. Depressed and anxious people do a lot of pretending, out of necessity and to avoid what happens when you are misunderstood or treated unkindly if you admit how things really are. We need to think about how our responses can add pressure in the lives of people who are already suffering. Reacting as though that suffering is laziness, lack of willingness to try, poor attitude or some other failure, adds layers of shame to already unhappy lives. We could stop doing that.
There are all kinds of things people are routinely mocked and punished for. That includes making mistakes, not knowing things, being anxious, how we look, how we dress, our body shapes, how we smile, even. It can be relentless. The experience of being knocked down, silenced, disrespected and disregarded has a lot of people hiding parts of themselves. How many people out there are afraid to show up as themselves for fear of how some other human is going to knock them down for it? How many people knock others down even as they dread being treated that way themselves?
Honesty is really hard when you’re in situations where you can’t count on basic decency from other people, much less compassion. There’s nothing especially honourable about being honest in situations where that might invite more harm than you can bear. If we want to move honourably through the world, then making sure other people can be honest, authentic and truthful needs to be part of that.