Radical Dishonesty

I received a correspondence from someone I have known for many years, a person who is part of my heart. Injected between the brief news of this and that were distortions of reality. Cloaked as sarcasm were misperceptions of a situation and the involvement of some people I also know. I thought those casually written sentences were really harmful to the writer and to the people being slighted in the correspondence.

It was not the first time I had seen this person err in judgment and understanding, or witness their anger being misdirected. The bitterness in the correspondence took on the color of ugliness as I read it through a second time, because I grasped just how many people were being affected by these distortions.

Before I responded, I weighed three things very carefully:

  1. did I think this person was now ready for my opinion and suggestions intended to help them learn,
  2. would my reply help this person grow spiritually,
  3. was I ready for the relationship to suffer a tear so great as to be unmendable, should my reply be deemed outrageous, hostile or critical by this beloved person?

Once those issues were settled in my mind and heart, I sat down to compose my reply. I knew what I felt I had to say would come as a total, unexpected and jarring surprise. Still, I trusted I was being guided by a greater good. As I sat in front of my computer, it seemed like my heart had fingers long enough to reach the keyboard. I watched as the sentences of gentle rebuke were birthed on screen.

This is not the first time I have gone through an exercise like this.

But this particular exchange got me to thinking about the consequences of speaking one’s truth when there is so much at stake. And how it takes courage and conviction, each and every time one is faced with distortion, bile or b.s., to meet it and try to correct it in the most tender, love-filled and compassionate way so it is not misinterpreted as criticism.

It is probably because it takes so much time and energy and yes, even includes the possibility of sacrificing a treasured relationship or friendship,that so many of us avoid confronting the people who present these awkward challenges. Radical dishonesty is the moral misstep I would have been making had I been unwilling to face down the negativity of those untruths. And that just wasn’t an option for me then.

Radical dishonesty, as I use the phrase, is not the elephant in the living room that no one is willing to acknowledge. Radical dishonesty is seeing the enormous pile of smelly dung the elephant is depositing in the living room that is obviously poisoning everyone, and then refusing to pick up a shovel to clean it up. Radical dishonesty happens because picking up the shovel means truth must be spoken to set in motion changes that are desperately needed for growth to begin. Change is hard work. It’s like coaxing out the door the elephant that doesn’t want to budge, so no wonder a lot of people refuse the task. But if you don’t pick up that shovel, you are effectively poisoning your own spirit.

Radical dishonesty appears whenever a person doesn’t want to rock the boat and tell a loved one that “Yes” they really do need to lose the extra weight. It happens whenever colleagues look the other way when an employer is targeting, discriminating or harassing a coworker. It happens whenever a school administrator or teacher fails to explain to a helicopter parent how their well-intentioned but suffocating and coddling behavior is harming the development of self-esteem in their child. It happens whenever an adult child refuses to have their elderly parent’s driving reevaluated once it is clear the senior is an accident waiting to happen.

Radical dishonesty seems most prevalent around grief, and more tolerated, if not encouraged. Whenever someone has been grieving a long long long time and is impaled by the grip of depression — whether it be over the death of a loved one or the end of a marriage — it is incumbent upon someone close to them to share the compassionate wisdom of Mary Shelley who wrote:

“The time at length arrives, when grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity, and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed a sacrilege, is not banished.”

To do less than deliver this gentle rebuke is to commit a radical, dangerous dishonesty. The interesting thing to me about radical dishonesty is that it is universal, like a virus from which no one is immune. It comes in so many different forms, and appears in all times and places. It is like HIV in a way, the virus that is so adept at mutating, researchers say it will be virtually impossible to develop one vaccination that will be the silver bullet.

The only silver bullet I know for humanity’s radical dishonesty is first becoming aware of how it is harming us all. As long as we are willing to indulge or enable it, it will steal our happiness. The silver bullet also requires strength and courage to avoid it and remove it from our everyday reality, and this can be done with graceful humility.

— Giselle M. Massi © July 2007