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Honesty is important to Why This Way. We have the belief that in a healthy state, people communicate honestly. It is fundamental to our idea of respect. Honesty is related to the idea of truthfulness.


Honesty, truthfulness, and truth

People do not necessarily agree on what exactly it means to be "honest" or "truthful". In Why This Way, we sometimes refer to the words "truthful" or "truthfulness" to emphasize the truth (or lack thereof) in a specific statement. Our emphasis on both the person's honesty and the truthfulness of their statements is reflected in our rules of communication, which start with the statement "Use language accurately and honestly, stating only truths."

Our rules, together with our process of communication, serve many purposes, but among them is helping the discussion reach a greater level of truthfulness. For example, if two people state clearly conflicting beliefs such that it is not possible that they are both true, it would not be truthful to have both statements "X is true." and "Y is true." but if people both believe these things, it would be more truthful for one person to say "I believe that X is true." and the other to say "I believe that Y is true." because these are statements about the people's beliefs, not the truth of the underlying statement. In general, the rules and process of communication help us to reach a higher level of truthfulness through identifying the boundary between what is more objective (thought to be true by everyone in our group), and what is more subjective (believed to be true by certain people). We say more objective and less objective because we are aware of the possibility that there are things that all of us believe to be true which are not true.

Honesty, respect, tact, and positivity or niceness

Sometimes honesty is presented as being opposed to being tactful or even being respectful, or being opposed to positivity or niceness. In Why This Way, we recognize that interpretations of respect vary culturally and also from one person to another, but we have defined and built our ideas and values of respect in such a way that being honest is considered part of being respectful and is not in conflict with it.

Niceness is sometimes associated with a lack of honesty. Statements such as "She was just being nice when she said that" usually communicate that the person was not honest about their statement and said it "to be nice". (Incidentally, this breaks our rules of communication because it speculates about an individual's intentions.)

"Honesty" can also be invoked as an excuse for saying negative things to people. For example, if someone insults another person or makes a negative statement, if they are called out on their negativity, like being accused that the remark was mean or disrespectful, they can say "I was just being honest."

Being honest does not necessitate saying everything that is on your mind. When you are not thinking clearly, speaking your mind without any filter can result in you making a lot of statements that are honest (in the sense that you are thinking them) but not truthful. For example, if you think someone is a jerk, you don't have to say it. We would believe that the idea that someone is a jerk is not fully truthful, because it characterizes a person as a negative label and not as a whole person.

Honesty and reassurance

One situation in which honesty can appear slightly problematic is when people are looking for positive reassurance, and ask for feedback from someone. Reassurance that is dishonest can sometimes be harmful in the long run. One reason is that it may reinforce unhealthy ways of thinking. For instance, if a woman is concerned about her appearance because she is heavier than most people, and people keep reassuring her that she is thin when they don't really believe it, it reinforces the idea that thinness is associated with beauty and being heavy is a negative quality that people don't want to be associated with. A second reason is that dishonest reassurance can be undermined if a person realizes that it is not true. In the example above, if someone dishonestly reassures a woman that she is thin, this does nothing for the times when the woman knows that she is not thin, and feels bad about it.

It is often possible to reassure people in ways that are true and honest. For example, if someone is worried that they're going to fail a test because they don't know the material, it may not be useful to say things like "Don't worry, you'll pass anyway," because it will no longer be reassuring after the test, if they do fail. It may be more useful to point out that the test may not be as important as it seems at the time, and it doesn't determine the person's value or overall capability.

Self honesty and denial

Self-honesty or being honest with yourself is a concept that captures the idea of a person being honest in their own self-narrative. It is contrasted with a state of denial, in which a person knows on some level that something is true, but still does not believe it. The idea of whether it is possible to truly be dishonest with oneself or in denial is subjective. Because we observe only other people's actions and words, and not their thoughts, it is impossible to know whether or not a person is actually in denial, or whether they are merely outwardly denying something that they actually do believe. Because our rules of communication specify that we cannot make statements about another person's thoughts, intentions, or motivations, we cannot claim that someone is in denial, while following these rules.

A more objective way of discussing the concepts which self-honesty and denial get at is the idea of consistency. We cannot observe another person's thoughts, but we can observe their actions and words. We can then observe whether or not a person's actions are consistent with each other, or with their words or openly professed beliefs.

Our rules and process of communication also get at some of the things that are often discussed under the label of "being honest with yourself". For example, our rules prohibit exaggeration, which includes exaggerating the certainty with which you believe something. Our process allows people to call people out on statements, asking questions like: "Do you think you may be exaggerating when you say that?" or "How certain are you of that belief?" These questions can provoke thought and introspection, helping the original speaker to reflect and tap into their knowledge, and at times come to a more truthful statement, like "I feel pretty certain but I could be wrong.", or at other times answer confidently, like: "No, I am not exaggerating when I say that."