October 1999

Oct
2
1999

honesty

This is number three in an indefinite series. You may wish to read forward in the archives from ‘reaction junkie‘ (or even ‘cast of characters’) before continuing.

•   •   •

I lied constantly as a child. I lied up, down and sideways. Mostly in hopes that it would get me out of trouble, though sometimes just to get something I wanted. Sometimes it did get me out of trouble, and sometimes it got me in more — but then the same could be said for telling the truth. A reliable coping strategy did not exist for the situation I was in.

I don’t know, but this may be part of why I have such a weird thing now around being believed. Whenever I’m interacting with someone I’ve recently met or don’t know very well, there’s a small part of me who expects to be disbelieved on very basic facts. Like where I live, or whether my friends or sweeties actually exist. For example, a friend visited Seattle last weekend, and we met for the first time after something like three years of online acquaintanceship and reading each others’ web sites. When we came back to my apartment after dinner the ‘proof track’ was running in the back of my head, “See, I really do have a cat named Misha. See, I really do have a roommate named R. See?”

I do this a lot. I’m aware of how absurd it is, but that doesn’t keep it from happening.

I didn’t stop lying all at once. It happened very gradually, over a span of years. It probably started sometime after I graduated college, and it was really the Internet — first my web site, and then this very journal — that pushed it all the way to the extreme that I now inhabit.

There was a time when lying didn’t bother me particularly, but somewhere along the way it’s become acutely painful for me to be deliberately dishonest. I’ve lied exactly twice in the last two years, both times in an attempt to extricate myself from awkward social situations. In each case I was bothered for weeks afterward. In the more egregious instance I felt compelled to write an email to the person and ‘come clean.’ (I had hoped this would help repair the situation caused by my falsehood, but it didn’t seem to. I, however, immediately felt much better.)

I take a lot of pride in my honesty.

•   •   •

What follows is part of a correspondence between myself and N. (Yes, I have her permission to post it.) There’s more, but I have to deal with this one piece at a time.

Karawynn:
… you sent a note to your list that, perplexingly, said i was ‘kindhearted and caring’ — and then followed that up with what i can still only read as an accusation that i was deliberately withholding information that i didn’t want others to know. which — given who i have chosen to be and the way i live my life … the fact that i consider complete and utter honesty to be of such paramount personal importance that i have given up all privacy in its service — is probably one of the most hurtful and antagonistic things you could possibly say to me. ‘kindhearted and caring’ pales before ‘dishonest.’

N:
Well, this will be hard for you to hear, but I do think you left things out, in your choices about what to tell about your relationships with A and S. I’ve heard from A about this, mostly. I’m sure you felt hurt by his actions toward you, but have you considered that he felt hurt by your actions toward him? My point, in writing that comment to my list, was that your account was subjective, and that A and S each saw it differently. You wrote about them to a list of well over a thousand people; I thought I should at least stand up for them to my list of eighty. The thing is, “complete and utter honesty” is not possible when telling a story that involves other people, because you have no way of knowing the entirety of their motives. To assume that you can know other people’s motives that well is to be dishonest with yourself. Maybe you didn’t think of it as withholding information, and maybe this is what you believe is the absolute truth, but the way the story came out made it look like A was insensitive and closed off, and you never did anything that could harm the relationship. He believes that he was being sensitive and understanding, and that your actions were sometimes harmful to the relationship. Is your belief always the true one, or can there be different opinions about what is true?

•   •   •

I’m honest and I’m genuine — I’m not omniscient. Honesty means that I’m not lying, and I’m not deliberately deceiving anyone … including myself. It doesn’t mean that I’m always right, or that I have (or believe that I have) some kind of magic insight into other people’s motives. I do believe — based on years of feedback, some of it from trained professionals — that I am more perceptive and more self-aware than most people. But I still have my blind spots and my predispositions, and I don’t always know where and what they are. (Though I’m in therapy again, among other things, to try and find out.)

In A’s case specifically, he had given me bloody little to go on. What I said is what I believed based on a) my experiences and b) what little communication we’d had since the breakup. I tried to make it clear that I wasn’t really sure I understood much of anything about him or what happened. My comments about S were more charitable because she’d been more communicative and open, so that I had the opportunity for a more balanced understanding. (Not, mind you, that there aren’t still some gaps there too.)

My experience of A is that he was insensitive and closed off. Not nearly always, or completely, but certainly in some major instances. If he believes he was sensitive and understanding, my first guess would be that we are using different yardsticks. Like, the amount of sensitivity he offered was low for me, but high for him. That hypothesis doesn’t clash with anything else I know about A or myself. It could also be that A and I mean different things by ‘sensitive.’ Though mind you, I still think that in most respects, A is possessed of greater-than-average sensitivity. I also think that he’s got so much self-image tied up in his perception of himself as ‘sensitive’ that he’s not very open to recognizing instances where he’s been insensitive.

A has also admitted to me that he was feeling uncomfortable in the relationship, but deliberately ignored it for some weeks because he didn’t know exactly what was wrong and didn’t want to figure it out. Outwardly, he was focused on the good parts … and that’s all I got to see, until it was too late. Does that qualify as closed off? To me, it does.

Did I do things to harm the relationship? Well, I have some trouble with the phrasing of that, because it seems to imply cognizance when I never knew the relationship was in any danger. But I’m sure that some of my behavior contributed to A’s unhappiness. Until I know more, I won’t be able to make any kind of judgment for myself about whether my behavior was ‘wrong’ or simply ‘incompatible.’ But it’s not as though I’m disavowing all responsibility in either case. I mean, for the first few weeks I was taking so much blame on myself that my psychiatrist thought I needed to be pushed back in the other direction.

I am constantly trying to figure things out, piece them together, make logical sense out of events and other people’s actions. I want to know the causes for every effect. I take my own experiences, and what other people tell me, and attempt to formulate reasonable hypotheses (about myself and about other people) upon which to base future behavior. If you think you don’t do the same thing, I submit that you just aren’t aware of the process.

I also try to revise those hypotheses as new data comes in and it becomes appropriate. N has just given me a whole chunk of new data, and I’m processing into overtime, here. (If I could afford it, I think I’d see my therapist three times a week instead of once. I’m impatient.)

•   •   •

After considering, I have concluded that I disagree with N in this one thing: I still believe that complete and utter honesty is possible when telling a story that involves other people. (Which, in my opinion, all the most interesting ones do.) No one can ever tell any truth other than their own … but so many people don’t even do that much.

I think I get more letters from readers admiring the honesty I exhibit here than any other sort of response. I didn’t imagine that I needed additional disclaimers, but perhaps I do:

Nothing I say here is ever representative of anyone else’s internal truth, except as they have presented it to me, or as I have hypothesized it based on external observation. I can’t document everything that happens, because I’d need a couple of extra lifetimes just for that. But I never, ever omit things in an attempt to deceive, or skew the story unfairly, or (as N’s original post put it) because there’s some part of the story that I don’t want anyone to know. I don’t dissemble and I don’t lie.

And I so very desperately want to be believed.

‘A cat minority of one
is all that can be counted on
to tell the truth …’