Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Honesty is a Lonely Word: Lies in Personal and Professional Lives

Lyrics from Honesty song refrain with chords
Everyone is so untrue, Billy Joel complains in his song. It does seem that honesty is lacking in today’s world. No matter where you look, you see that dishonesty is gaining ground. This is not just limited to celebrities and politicians and the media circus surrounding them, it is firmly embedded in daily life.

Its more harmless expression in form of white lies is socially accepted and in some cases even encouraged. But the problem is that these smaller feats of dishonesty appear to signal the message that lies are and ought to be part and parcel of daily interaction and that it is normal and healthy to do so.

Take for instance, people on a first date. That is the breeding ground for lies. We lie to impress the other; we hide (lying by omission) unpleasant facts or details about our lives. Yet in the end, we are deceiving the other person and - to an extent - ourselves. We show them an image that does not correspond with our inner reality.

Sooner or later, once this house of cards collapses, disappointment ensues, and this may be another reason why break-ups are so common-place. People lie to each other, create false impressions and promises and are then disappointed once they realize that they had been led on all this time.

But lies are not limited to our personal lives. They also invade our professional world. From the onset, we lie on our resumes and CVs. We omit the unpleasant facts or weaknesses and expand on our assets. When the interview comes along, we embellish our strengths, lie about - or slyly cover up - our weaknesses, and in many cases, people claim they have experience and expertise where none of that is existent or grounded in fact.

The employers, it seems, enjoy getting lied to, and they are - or at least pretend to be - naive in taking all the words at face value. When an honest person comes along and offers them the truth on a silver platter, they ignore him and offer the job to somebody else. Modesty is immediately dismissed as weakness, while lies and gossip are taken as valid truths because that is what people prefer to hear.

This is not limited only to the interview process but continues throughout. Those who spread gossip and hide their lack of abilities by consistently claiming that they are more than qualified and competent, they indeed end up getting promotions. The ones who quietly work away and who are talented and competent get the short end of the stick.

This is worrisome from many points of views. First of all, justice is not served when people get ahead through lies and manipulation; the carefully groomed appearance and persona do not correspond with the inner reality. It also means that people will find themselves in positions they cannot handle in any effective manner. Their decisions are going to be harmful to others working under them and would lead to the demise of the company itself. It backfires, but once the employer realizes this, it may be too late and the damage has already been done.

This is across the board and in a variety of businesses and practices. Those who are elected to positions also benefit from their inflated appearance; they lie and smear their rivals and more often than not end up victorious. They may even be the least competent, but they have the gift of the gab tied with the ability to lie through their teeth.

The other problem is that this constant concern about appearance will mold and influence the person, and they will end up losing touch with their real selves. They will come to believe the role they are playing and not only lie to others, but also deceive themselves. A culture that values putting one’s best foot forward and that is concerned with saving face and one’s image ends up encouraging lies and discouraging truth and honesty.

This is the common complaint about people being phony or not being genuine. Instead of speaking their mind or showing themselves as who they are, people like to build fences around themselves, and they stuff them with commonplace expressions and socially accepted but empty jargon. More often than not, they will go with the current streams of mainstream opinion and media because being honest to oneself ironically takes more effort in such an environment.

So yes, Billy Joel is right when he says that honesty is hard to find and that it is what he needs most from his friend or partner. But what the singer may perhaps not realize in all of this is the fact that he is most likely not honest to himself. One needs to take a hard look in the mirror and face the music about oneself. Some truths are hard to swallow; yet pretending the negative traits do not exist or turning a blind eye to the unpleasant facts about oneself is not the solution.

Only if we see the truth about ourselves, the good and the bad, the weak and the strong can we live a more truthful and more authentic existence. And once we learn to see ourselves as we are and stop lying to ourselves, we can open up to those we trust and care about and reveal to them our true persona in all its colors and splendor. Then we can finally have an honest relationship. But in a world that turns its back on honesty and authenticity, that is much harder said than done.