Why honesty really does tend to seem like “the best policy” ( Thursday, July 30th, 2020)

The idea that “honesty is the best policy” and that it is virtuous/ethical/moral/the “right” or “correct” or “proper” principle to adhere to—I tend to agree. In the midst of my agreement I can’t help but laugh about it because there’s the more abstract and esoteric engagement with the principle—you know, those lists we keep in mind (whether consciously or unconsciously—that whole topic being its own Pandora’s box) of our ultimate “shoulds” and “should-nots” (I am thinking of both my grandmother and my mother saying that lying is the one thing they hate more than anything else) but in my observations it seems that HONESTY—despite not always being obvious in the longer term—turns out to be very PRACTICAL. How so?

Since I’ve been heavily entrenched in contemplations on the thoughts and feelings behind peoples’ choices to practice monogamy versus non-monogamy and/or polyamory and how people identify in terms of sexual orientation I’ll use this context to offer examples.

If we are dishonest, then… in the long term, very likely, there will be tears…

Suppose you’re a young adult, let us say 19, and in the midst of a romantic relationship you find yourself either 1) wanting to engage in other romantic relationships while also maintaining this first one; 2) you find yourself bisexual and conflicted as to how you can explore that while not damaging your newfound relationship, 3) you discover you are gay and/or transgender thus complicating the original premise of your relationship. What happens if you keep these things to yourself?

Before I do examine that question however… I believe it is CRUCIAL that we acknowledge and appreciate factors that could motivate a person to withhold this new found set of personality traits. Shame, for instance. I would vouch for the fact that a person can grow convinced that a trait of his or hers is the result of there being something “wrong” with him, whether morally or psychologically. Feeling disturbed and distressed by one’s self-shame, instead of opening up about what one is thinking and feeling, one withholds and tells one’s self like an affirmation or mantra that one can “make it go away” and “fix” the problem. No one ever has to know.

Along with the shame, maybe we fear the consequences of our honesty, especially in terms of our closest relationships. If she knew I felt at times I was falling romantically for other women, desiring even to pursue a sexual experience and that it was more than just a fleeting thought. You believed this was your inherent make up and inclination. If she knew, she might leave you. You don’t want her to leave. You suppress and suppress and suppress. Years go by and the suppression causes the immensity of the desires to build up until you simply can’t suppress it anymore. You inadvertently confess. You didn’t even realize it. You’ve now become officially the source of someone else’s shock, trauma, confusion (they had lived believing in certain givens about their relationship for so long and they’d been living a lie without being even remotely privy to it.) You have caused a painful rift. And, to quote Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb from their song “Tears” :

“yes, there will be tears.
I will not sleep tonight (oh oh).
There will be tears tonight.
I will not sleep tonight (oh).
There will be.Soon there will be tears”

Dishonesty often undermines one’s self-esteem

But let us look at the implications and ramifications of this dishonesty in an even wider scope. As a very basis, foundation, starting place, ground and root—when we perpetuate dishonesty we are also inherently perpetuating insecurity and a breech of self-esteem. We have rejected part of who we are and thus for the duration of this relationship (unless we are so lucky that it can withstand substantive withholdings) we are perpetuating this thought pattern of self-rejection. Why might it not spill into other realms? Moreover, you may find lying worth the risk but often enough lies are discovered and unveiled, whether mild or severe. (In the case of present Trump at times all he has to do to make a lie known to the nation is finish a single complete sentence for he is just this pathological!)   

Still, it is never so simple. Contexts can grow so complicated that we feel nonplussed or overwhelmed and incapable of reasoning above and beyond the pure emotion. Sometimes some aspect of one’s self can be very embarrassing. I think a big trick here is not so much when to lie or not lie so much as how much to share and when and how do we know or how might we gain a confident idea?

I will share something about myself that only my wife, mother, therapists and doctor know (so far as I can recall).

I have trichotillomania and it’s very hard to talk about; at what point, if at all, must I talk about it anyway?

I have Trichotillomania. (Very hard for me to pronounce. [trick uh tull oh may nee uhh]

Trichotillomania is essentially an obsessive-compulsive hair-pulling disorder.

In the Medical News Today article “What is trichotillomania?”–

medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP  and written by Rachel Nall, MSN, CRNA on October 29, 2019, this condition is describes like this:

“People with trichotillomania feel an overpowering desire to pull out their hair.

“Most pull out the hair on their scalp. However, some people may also pull hair out of their beards, eyelashes, or eyebrows.

“Some people with trichotillomania also eat [thankfully I do not] the hair they pull out. This condition is called trichophagia. It can cause significant problems in the gastrointestinal tract.

“Most people with trichotillomania develop the condition in adolescence. Some of these people may then struggle with the condition continually or intermittently throughout adulthood.”

A bizarre characteristic of this disorder, at least for me, is that quite like a nervous tick, it occurs often quite unconsciously. Typically I pluck my facial hairs or below my neck and above my chest but sometimes elsewhere too.

Working at cultivating a self-esteem with awareness of having trichotillomania feels like walking against and into the wind or the ocean’s current because it’s a reminder that one has a compulsion. Also…it can make a person feel disgusting, incompetent, terribly unsexy. At its worst, when there is a mad fit of it, one may pluck away at the cost of bloodying a part of one’s self and one feels one can’t physically stop it like an addict cannot stop feeding his or her addiction.  

This is not something I feel excitement over confessing to you. But if I ever grow considerably intimate with other people, even if I irradiate the compulsion today somehow, as a strong and reeking memory, assuming one is determined to shed one’s layers of SHAME off one’s skin…it seems to me more reasonable to shake it off here in this diary than hide in a secret corner.

Trying to leave the shame out of it

How do we decide what it is we SHOULD share and WHEN to share? (Supposing, of course, you’re in a situation where a back and forth of trading about one another is a central component, whether it’s between you and your therapist or you and a confidant) My initial guess is to hone in on those parts of ourselves that cause the most distress.

One other example, in my case, being the opening up to you about my polyamory. My therapist said that in processing this self-discovery, “leaving the shame out of it” would be helpful.


The Oxford English Dictionary defines “shame” as follows: “The painful emotion arising from the consciousness of something dishonouring, ridiculous, or indecorous in one’s own conduct or circumstances (or in those of others whose honour or disgrace one regards as one’s own), or of being in a situation which offends one’s sense of modesty or decency”

If I feel shame about being polyamorous just what is that “something dishonouring, ridiculous, or indecorous in [my] conduct or circumstances” –?

I used to think non-monogamy was unethical. I thought so for a very long time. Not because I thought it was disgusting or belligerent. My primary thinking on the concept was that the depth and breadth of a monogamous relationship could not be surpassed by a non-monogamous lifestyle. Speaking very metaphysically, if the monogamous relationship is healthy (so I claimed to reason…) then as a mere mental entity (as in, by the very existence of the space it takes in one’s consciousness, thoughts, feelings) it would have to be a more giant and enormous connection. How could any relationship among the non-monogamous relationships compete?

I won’t digress further at this time into my philosophizing on certain implications of sexual orientation but my point is that for most of my life, despite having polyamorous feelings for a very long time, I constantly DISMISSED them, often on account of my SHAME—my hasty moral repudiation of it.

The moral/ethical questions I’ve had while contemplating the choice between monogamy and non-monogamy go beyond the fundamental. I also wondered if non-monogamy might be greedy. (Or was it monogamy that actually perpetuated feelings of greed?) In the non-monogamous context, perhaps, concerning the question of what role, if any, greed plays, the exploration to be had is what the motivations are that seem to compel this desire and why one might not be “enough.” Is it a mind-numbing gorging of more superficial romances and/or sex? Is it gluttony? If we see cause to describe it as greed or gluttony, we have to explain why (?)!

Can we attribute the theoretical “greed” label to seeking romantic interactions to feed one’s own desires at the cost of subjecting a partner to significant hurt? At that cost, yes, I think so, however, who is to say that in all situations someone will feel hurt or will feel a hurt that outweighs any inevitable hurt that comes from inevitable imperfections in all relationships anyway?

Suppression seems pretty unhealthy to me…

Locking these feelings and thoughts in a small den within one’s mind, never daring so much as putting words to them, let alone never telling another soul…the unhealthiness of this suppression (in this case indeed the “dishonesty” is an act of more than withholding the truth, it’s suppressing an intense part of one’s self that is embedded in the depths of one’s “core” or soul.)—how I only see it now that I acknowledge to myself what I had locked in that small mental den for some 15 years, at least.

I now feel even more suspicious of environments where significant suppression is required to get around because it’s first of all, clearly unhealthy from AT LEAST a psychological perspective. (To be fair, there is a place and time for most things. For example, another thing experience has taught me, don’t talk much politics in the workplace unless you’re substantially comfortable with who your discussing it and can rest assured that it won’t cause any disruption. So when I speak of suppressive environments, I don’t mean those environments which follow a set of standards found to be most conducive to facilitating healthy productivity.)  

Indeed, the practicality and reasonability of that cliché tried and true saying that “honesty is best policy” grows strikingly more apparent to me. The ACTUAL consequences of dishonesty, beyond hurting others, also include the damage one can do to one’s self!

This leads me to keep in mind the question: when have I “buttoned my lips” about matters that seemed important to me? As I have been discussing here in this diary most recently of my struggle to commit to career plans and long-term creative projects I really must AND DO wonder, when did I abandon an idea or project because, for whatever reason, I decided to be dishonest about whatever notion I allowed to compel me to abandon it? What is the extent to which I swallow what I think and feel to a point that crosses the line between saving a conversation for the right time and place and becoming dishonest by virtue of never sharing what you really think about this or that?


*(By ‘tend to agree’ what I mean to say is that there are instances when it would seem reasonable to withhold or fabricate the truth with the caveat that based on my experience such instances are rare. For example, if this were NAZI Germany and I could pull off hiding my Jewish background and even fabricate a background conducive to my self-preservation, I would. Why should the mentally and ideologically deranged get a monopoly on life and quality of life? On the other hand, sometimes the only option may be…or the best apparent option may be to “stick it to them,” “bite your thumb at them” and tell them to “wank and fuck off and go to hell!” Socrotes, Jesus, Giordano Bruno** to name a few…I try not to think about what I would “die for” because I don’t like to stress out my mind unnecessarily. Anyway, death is the most extreme scenario from which the complexities of whether or not lying to prevent it tend to arise. What about “white lies?” Here, there may be a time and place when we are pressured to offer an opinion on a matter we deem to be of little long term consequence which we might find justifies a white lie. Even then…is it a white lie you want to tell, or a constructive thought you want to offer? If somebody asks you if they appear obese, let us say. What would you say? Maybe the right response might be something like— how are you feeling about your body? Do you have any particular goals? If we can find a way to neither evade nor cause distress in a setting which would not be conducive…I would be in favor of that)*

**( To be HONEST with you, as this is a motif for the day’s diary entry, I didn’t know who Giordano Bruno 1)1548-February 17, 1600 was until I researched people executed for their beliefs.

In the event that you don’t know who he is… briefly from the Encyclopedia Britannica article
Giordano Bruno-Italian philosopher”

[ ]

 written by Giovanni Aquilecchia, Emeritus Professor of Italian, University College, University of London. Author of Giordano Bruno and others…. “the most notable of these were his theories of the infinite universe and the multiplicity of worlds, in which he rejected the traditional geocentric (Earth-centred) astronomy and intuitively went beyond the Copernican heliocentric (Sun-centred) theory, which still maintained a finite universe with a sphere of fixed stars…

“…Bruno was arrested and tried [for his beliefs]. He defended himself by admitting minor theological errors, emphasizing, however, the philosophical rather than the theological character of his basic tenets. The Venetian stage of the trial seemed to be proceeding in a way that was favourable to Bruno. Then, however, the Roman Inquisition demanded his extradition, and on January 27, 1593, Bruno entered the jail of the Roman palace of the Sant’Uffizio (Holy Office).

During the seven-year Roman period of the trial, Bruno at first developed his previous defensive line, disclaiming any particular interest in theological matters and reaffirming the philosophical character of his speculation. This distinction did not satisfy the inquisitors, who demanded an unconditional retraction of his theories. Bruno then made a desperate attempt to demonstrate that his views were not incompatible with the Christian conception of God and creation. The inquisitors rejected his arguments and pressed him for a formal retraction. Bruno finally declared that he had nothing to retract and that he did not even know what he was expected to retract. At that point, Pope Clement VIII ordered that he be sentenced as an impenitent and pertinacious heretic. On February 8, 1600, when the death sentence was formally read to him, he addressed his judges, saying: ‘Perhaps your fear in passing judgment on me is greater than mine in receiving it. Not long after, he was taken to the Campo de’ Fiori, his tongue in a gag, and burned alive.”)**

References   [ + ]

1. 1548-February 17, 1600

By Sean O'Connor

Hi, I'm Sean O'Connor, a poet and writer pursuing my MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at William Paterson University, where I also work as a learning generalist and where I received my BA in Liberal Studies.

Currently. I also work as a writing tutor at Raritan Valley Community College and Mercer County Community College.

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