One of the things that really gets my goat is when the word “honesty” is hijacked to justify what is really just plain unkindness (or worse). Dumping out onto other people the worst contents of your mind about them is not an automatically constructive thing to do, just because it is “honest”. And I don’t buy it when I see indulgence and arrogance being packaged up as virtuous, even courageous behaviour by wrapping the word “honesty” around it like a shiny ribbon.

Come on people! A world in which there was 100% disclosure, for example if our thoughts could be read by others, would not be a better world! The pain and offence caused by our prematurely formed or biased judgements would nip in the bud many a friendship that could otherwise grow and thrive. There is a reason we don’t generally tell people exactly what we think of them, but choose instead to vent to others privately as a way of processing our feelings – and the reason is not cowardice. Nor is it dishonesty, unless we are being completely false towards the person. It’s that our human social world would simply not work if we told everybody every single negative thought we had about them.

That’s not to say that everything negative should be kept hidden, of course. There are times when it’s necessary to confront someone, and there are times when a frank conversation can help clear things up. There are also times when venting behind someone’s back turns into malicious back-biting; where avoiding talking to the person merely allows a fortress of negative judgements to be built up, going unchecked by reality.

I’m not sure there are any easy answers. All I know is that goodwill, kindness, and a willingness to work with the good in others seem to go a long way. Where these are not present, no amount of “honesty” is likely to get you anywhere.

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