Sunday, January 25, 2009

Risk and Reward: Why Honesty Feels Good

I had an interesting conversation with someone recently. I was posed with a hypothetical.

The details aren't that important, really, but one thing I really enjoyed about the conversation was the hypothetical if things were done differently earlier in the story. If the characters of the movie, if you will, had said or done something different. How would it have affected the plotline?

I think Gwenyth Paltrow was in a movie called Sliding Doors, and although I really don't remember much of the movie, I seem to remember that one part of the movie was what happened when she missed the train, and the other half was what happened when she caught the train.

Our conversation was a little like that, but had a different slant. Anyone who reads my blog, or knows me personally, knows how I feel about honesty. And, like I said in this conversation I had, not just "saying what is true" but living one's life in a way which is consistent with my feelings, beliefs and reality. I think it was Suze Ormond who says something about "when your friends want to go on a ski trip, and you go along with it, knowing you can't really afford it, that is not being honest."

So, in this hypothetical relationship scenario, what would have happened if the main character had been honest in the beginning. (Or even anywhere else in the story, other than the very end?)

I just love this shit.

Honesty feels good. Have a real, honest conversation with someone, and you build trust and good feelings. The interesting thing is that the content isn't really that important. One would think that in order to have a "great" conversation, if would mean saying "happy happy" crap. But that's not always true. It's too easy to say the happy stuff.

It's when you have the guts to say the stuff you don't want to say, when you are honest when there is a risk, that the good feelings come.

And I know why.

When we say and do things which are consistent with our true feelings, beliefs, and reality, we are taking a risk, That's why people shy away from that. Risk. But what do we get in return? Not much... You get a false response, because it's not based on truth.

It's like buying a house because your stocks topped out, when the reality is that they tanked.

Honesty feels good because when we show others who we are, there IS a risk. That sounds like a contradiction. One might think that a risk would feel bad. And, in truth, risk feels scary sometimes. But the reason honesty, and the risk that comes with it, feels good, is that regardless of the result, you have done your part.

If you tell a person your scary truths up front, you run a risk that they won't accept that. They either say ok, or that's not ok. If it's ok, then you know that they accept you, complete with your reality. If they don't accept you, most people feel bad. No one likes to let another person down. So we say "Sure, I like your haircut!"

But if a person doesn't accept you for your truth, you know where you stand with that person. What if they accept you for your false truth? You still don't know where you stand.

When a person does not accept your truth, you know that is their decision, and is not a reflection on you. You can not predict how someone will feel about your reality. And besides, whose place is it to feel one way or another about something which is intimately yours?

If I want to be a ventriloquist, that is my decision. If someone chooses to not accept that, how should it affect me? I am not telling them that they should be a ventriloquist. It is my decision for me. If they don't accept that, it's not my issue.

When we fudge about the details, we also rob others of the opportunity to be accepting. That said, we have the responsibility to be level-headed in our responses, or we teach those around us to be fearful. Conditioned responses. This is how people acquire the baggage they bring into new relationships... So, when we aren't forthcoming on the not so minor details, we are doing others a disservice, as well as ourselves.

So honesty feels good because you know that whether or not your reality is well-received, it is YOUR reality that is getting the response. The interesting thing here, that many people are slow to believe, is that an honest answer is more likely to get a positive response, regardless of whether it's what they want to hear or not.

And, frankly, you don't know the other person's reality.

How many times has someone said, "Hey, want to go out tonight?" and you said, "Not really! I ant to stay in!" and they respond "OH I am SO glad you said that! Me, too!" Your honesty will bring an honest response. People can smell BS like a fart in a car, and even though they can't put their finger on what's wrong, the odds of an honest response go down. Give an honest answer and you will get an honest response. It's human nature to be honest, so when we make it easier for someone to be honest, they are thankful for that.

Look at babies. They cry when they are sad, laugh when they are happy... That is honest. We learn dishonesty.

So, After we've fudged on the details for a while, then what? Things get complicated. Too complicated to untangle. So, how do we clear everything up without destroying what we have left? We set the record straight. (Another fascinating subject in my opinion,
because I always love the idea of wiping the slate clean, starting fresh. Like diving into a new tub of margarine! It's just... Special.)

When we get ourselves into a mess, how do we get out? How and when do we set the record straight? Well, as for the when, the answer is as soon as possible, because things only get worse. As for the how? We look for a rope to pull ourselves out.

And what does the rope look like? You don't know until you see it. But it might not look the way you expect. You might expect to see a knotted, cotton rope to pull yourself out of the quagmire, so when you see a vine, does it look like a rope? What about a low branch? What about someone at the edge, giving you their hand. It's not a rope, so is it ok to grab it?


Opportunities to set the record straight come in the form of openings in the conversation, to bring up what needs to be said. The scary thing for most people is that usually they go through life without filling people in on the details, so when they change the plan, it may come as a surprise to others.

But the great thing about setting the record straight is that it's a stopping, and starting point. It's and end to all the problems which have developed as a result of people not knowing the story, and a start to everyone being in on, or aware of, the solution.

Things in motion tend to stay in motion. If the world moves forward with one belief, it will continue in that direction until new info is received. If a situation arises because reality is "bent", the problems will continue and even get worse until new information is received.

Keep money problems to ourselves, and our family doesn't know to be frugal.

Keep irritations to ourselves and our loved ones don't know that they are driving us crazy.

Keep to ourselves that we really don't like meatloaf, and we will be eating it for the next decade.

And then there are those things that we don't say, about our time behind locked doors... What does that buy us?

We generally don't easy anything because we figure we can tolerate the consequences. But problems don't go away. They get bigger. Debt grows. Irritations build. Your wife says "How was the meatloaf?" and you say "It's great, thanks." and now you are having it two times a week instead of one.

When we are upfront with what we like, who we are, what we want, and what our reality is, we are risking acceptance. Yep. It's a risk. But what are we risking? They will either accept us, and/or what we say, or they won't. But there is another option...

When we expose our honest selves with people, they may not like what they hear, but being honest earns respect. ESPECIALLY when it's something that the other does not want to hear. Which is more attractive? Someone who respects you, but may not agree with you, or someone who likes you, but does not respect you?

Have you ever called a customer service number about an order, and the person said, "You are right. We messed up. I can't change what happened, but what I can do is fix it from here. I can ship it to you overnight. Is that ok?" Sort of takes the anger away, doesn't it?

Living a live with honesty is a choice. But when we choose to be honest, everyone wins. Not only do we teach our children how to be honest, what it looks like, we teach them that it's ok to be honest, because the outcome will be ok. We teach others that we are trustworthy, because there is no reason to doubt what we say. We feel a sense of inner acceptance, because we see that people can and do accept our reality, even if not everyone does. Not everyone accepts our false realities anyway. And when we feel, inside, that it's OK to say how we feel, we have come to a place where we are good with ourselves. When I can say, "Well, y'all might like the movie, but I really didn't. Maybe I'm the only one, but really, I just didn't like it." Then I know I have accepted my own reality.

When we are honest, we ultimately teach ourselves that we are ok, just the way we are. We don't have to be different to be ok. When we know that we are ok, then whatever happens around us, we know that we will get through it without being torn up in the untangling process. We live with a sense of peace.

And that is why honesty feels good.

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