Ran across that last night while out with some friends of mine. One of the people I was out with noticed it and pointed it out to me. Glad she did. There is a great deal of reality contained there.
Sometimes I get the sense that we approach truth as if it were like spending money. If the money spent will go to my benefit, I will likely not hesitate to fork it over. If there is no benefit for me, odds are the money will stay tucked in my wallet/checking account/piggy bank. We are honest in situations where it might be to our benefit - like if we are wrongly accused of a crime, for instance. Being completely honest has an immediate and lasting positive effect on us. Holding back the truth would be potentially damning, so we don't do that. But when honesty might have negative consequences, we dance around the truth and distance ourselves from it as much as possible. If I am dating someone and she asks if a pair of jeans make her look fat (or whatever), and they do, I can save myself a great deal of trouble by just lying and saying they look great even if they do not. While this is a tongue in cheek example, it does illustrate that there are times when ignoring the truth can be "beneficial" for us. Or at least it seems that way.
The concern here is not truth itself, but rather what we do with it. Like my friend pointed out at the pub, truth is rarely pure and never simple. It is dirty, just like hope. But like hope, truth has great value even as it tracks mud around the house. And that value is not just something we are providing to others. That value is ours first, regardless of who else is involved.
Ayn Rand is one of the most important thinkers and writers of the 20th century, author of such books as Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead and The Virtue of Selfishness. She had a great deal to say about honesty and truth, and the quote below is one of the most profound ideas I have ever encountered on the subject of honesty. It is a bit lengthy, but trust me when I say it is well worth the length (emphasis added).
"Honesty is the recognition of the fact that the unreal is unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud – that an attempt to gain a value by deceiving the mind of others is an act of raising your victims to a position higher than reality, where you become a pawn of their blindness, a slave of their non-thinking and their evasions, while their intelligence, their rationality, their perceptiveness become the enemies you have to dread and flee – that you do not care to live as a dependant, least of all a dependant on the stupidity of others, or as a fool whose source of values is the fools he succeeds in fooling – that honesty is not a social duty, not a sacrifice for the sake of others, but the most profoundly selfish virtue man can practice: his refusal to sacrifice the reality of his own existence to the deluded consciousness of others."
- Atlas Shrugged, p.1019
I love that. Honesty is not a social duty but the most profoundly selfish virtue man can practice. His refusal to betray his own beliefs and perception of truth in order to avoid conflict and disagreement. The first time I read those words, I thought it was pretty interesting but attached no significance to them. Then I read it over a dozen or more times. And I started to grasp it: if I am to claim to be an honest person and be true to myself, I have to be willing to speak my mind and be unashamed of what I have to say, no matter what the consequences are. I refuse to live a life where I must hide my truth and bury my honesty.
After having read those words over and over again months ago, I made a promise to myself that I would be honest and straightforward with other people. No more dancing around the truth, no more hiding who I am and what I believe. I will tell you what I believe, who I am, and not hide the details. If the reality of who I am as a person causes someone to see me as an enemy or to leave me as a friend, so be it. I would prefer not to waste time on someone so fickle.
Once I made that decision I began speaking my mind and standing up for what I see as truth with a resolve that I never had in the past. Many of the words I have written in this blog would not have been possible had I not encountered Ayn Rand's wisdom and passion for the truth. Now, certainly I have encountered many who disagree with me and some who are simply looking for a fight (intellectually, of course). There have been a few instances where I stood up for something or someone and ended up with a larger mess than I had anticipated. But do you know what? So be it. I won't apologize. Speaking my mind and standing up for my truth has provided me with liberation and freedom that I did not understand before, let alone experience. Refusing to swallow what I have to say has given me great joy. No, I am not perfect, and I do not claim to be. Nor would I say that I am correct in all my beliefs. But there are core traits and perspectives within me that I refuse to betray. I know now that the friendships I have and the people who love me do so not conditionally, but rather as a result of those people seeing the reality of who I am and wanting that relationship anyway.
On Tuesday I had a conversation with someone that I had been putting off for a while. I had been putting it off because I was afraid of what the consequences of revealing the truth might be, afraid that I might be looked at differently or thrown to the curb. Living as a relative prisoner to the truth exactly like John Galt was talking about in the quote above. But then Rand's words entered my head for what must have been the thousandth time. I realized that I was dancing around the truth, just as I had chosen to stop doing. The truth I had to say certainly was not completely pure or even slightly simple, but that is the nature of truth. I realized that if I am going to take those words seriously, if I am going to honor the pact I made with myself, I have to speak the truth regardless of what consequences it might have. Consequences be damned, as I like to say. And so I stepped up to the plate and said what I had to say. Strangely enough, it worked out pretty well, to make a long story short.
Selfishness has become a bad word to us, something we claim to strive to avoid. Yet, honesty is selfish. If I challenge people to accept me for who I am, I know that I can count on the ones who do and can pay no attention to the ones who do not. Any love I obtain will not be a fraud, because the people who love me will have every opportunity to see who I am and what I am about, and to abandon me if they so choose. I can rest in the assurance that the people who love me know who I am and love me anyway. Honesty is not a social duty. We don't owe it to other people. Rather, it is an invitation for us to explore how the world reacts to who we are as people. Honesty allows me to truly be me, and to not apologize for it. And I refuse to apologize for who I am.
And so on...