I don’t want you being honest with me — and I promise not to be honest with you either. I want us to withhold the truth, avoid transparency, and be pretenders. In fact, I don’t want anyone in the world being honest with each other. Honesty is not the best policy.
My friends may be surprised at me saying such an outlandish thing. As a God-fearing person who often speaks about truthfulness, integrity, and accountability, this doesn’t sound congruent.
Here’s what I mean.
We don’t need to disclose everything we’re thinking. Just because it’s in my head doesn’t mean it needs to be spoken. Before talking, I need to consider whether speaking my thoughts would be beneficial.
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Here, Paul tells the Ephesians not to let everything in your head come out of your mouth. In other words, “Put a filter on it!” Prior to opening up your mouth, make sure your words suit the occasion, build up, and give grace to the hearer. Less is more.
James, in 1:19, agrees, telling us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Our culture today completely fails in this area. People are slow to listen, quick to speak, and filterless — particularly in our online communications!
Less is more. We don’t need to share all of our opinions or always get in the last word. Why do we feel it so necessary to tell others all the things that displease us about them? How about putting a stop to our constant critiques and obeying Philippians 2:3 instead, which tells us to treat others better than ourselves!
We’ve drifted a long way from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous Sonnet 43. “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” If written today it would read, “How have you offended me? Let me count the ways.” People are quick to point out their dissatisfactions, grievances, and disappointments in brutally honest, hate-filled attacks. Let’s be different; let’s never insult others by our honesty.
But what if the honesty of others insults us? What then?
I recently read a book about apologizing, where the author contends that we must honestly tell people whenever they hurt us. I completely disagree. As I’ve blogged elsewhere, we can forgive someone who has hurt us without needing to inform them of the hurt they caused. Let me take my hurts to Jesus, who understands mistreatment better than anyone, and then let me treat the offender with undeserved, unconditional mercy, grace, and love. Only if it would benefit the other person do I suggest telling them what they did to me.
Is honesty ever a good policy? Certainly. Here are occasions where I think honesty is vitally important:
- We need to be honest with God, ourselves, and others about our own weaknesses. To hide our fatal flaws is foolish. That’s why one of my personal Life Resolutions is to “keep no personal secrets of any kind, but rather disclose any areas of weakness to trusted friends that they may hold me accountable…”
- If I become aware that I’ve hurt someone, I should confess my sin honestly, express my need for forgiveness, and seek to restore harmony. Matthew 5:23-24 says, “…if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
- When a person has hurt me AND it would also benefit him or her to understand the effects of that hurt, my honesty would actually be a kindness. But make sure our motive involves his benefit, not our vindication or comeuppance. The goal of such honesty must be to help him learn the ways others may be adversely affected by his actions. The focus should be on educating more than confronting.
- When someone’s performance is sub-standard, a supervisor’s honest feedback and possible discipline are necessary.
- When someone exhibits behavior that is unethical, self-destructive, or harmful to you or others, honest, constructive criticism is essential. Such honest communication may help reveal the person’s blind spots and prevent further harm or abuse. But be sure the motive behind such honest feedback is protection and reformation and not judgment or condescension. Galatians 6 admonishes us to restore a straying person gently, something that takes great sensitivity, courage, and honesty.