MOST PEOPLE WHO MEDITATE started meditating
for practical reasons. They had high blood pressure or insomnia
or an explosive temper. They read the abundance of scientific
research showing that regular meditation can measurably improve
physical and mental health, and they began.
But some of these people, after they have
meditated for awhile, find meaning in the practice. They find
spiritual value something beyond the immediate, practical
benefits. Something more profound. The practice of honesty may
be that way for you.
Not as much research has been done on the
benefits of honesty, but what has been done points to
significant and wide-ranging benefits, mainly on your health
and your relationships. I'll talk about those shortly.
This article has three sections. In the
first section, we'll be looking at what benefits you will gain
from honesty. We'll look at what has been discovered by researchers.
In the second section, you'll learn some
useful ideas about how to make your honesty easier on both you
and on the person you're talking to. Some of these ideas make
a huge difference in whether your honesty increases the pleasure
you get out of life or makes your life a living hell. Honesty
is powerful, and needs to be handled with intelligence and skill.
The third section is about a deeper, more
complete honesty. It is a translation of the essay, Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It's
about being true to your deep self, being true to your purpose,
fulfilling your potential, expressing your gifts. It's about
being what George Bernard Shaw called "a force of nature
rather than a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances
complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you
happy." This is where honesty becomes a spiritual path;
it becomes a way to peace and contentment and fulfillment
not only personal fulfillment, but fulfillment of what we might
call your destiny.
may be thinking, Emerson was an American. Why would his essay
need to be translated?
I translated Self-Reliance from
its original eloquent, poetic prose (filled with words no longer
in common use) into modern, readable English. After reading my
here to read it), I hope you find yourself a copy of Emerson's
original version and read it with more understanding. That essay
is the most powerful piece of writing on deep honesty I've ever
The best way to use this article is to
take the principle that really stands out for you right now and
practice it. Make it the thing you're doing these days. Have
the principle printed onto a dog tag and wear it around your
neck, or have some other way of reminding yourself. If you choose
one that doesn't take a lot of time, and you want faster improvement,
you can pick another one and practice that one too. Keep adding
principles until you start to get uncomfortable or it seems too
much, and then drop what seems like the least important one.
Relax and have a good time with this. Deep honesty can be an
enjoyable and deeply rewarding lifelong spiritual practice.
Another way to approach this material is
to look though it when you're experiencing a problem in your
life and find something you are not doing that really needs to
be done. Stop there and start applying that principle in earnest.
Make it your hobby to apply that one until it is part of your
The practice of honesty is difficult at
times, but you are creating a new level of being, a new way of
life, and you'll have a higher level of satisfaction, contentment
and challenge than you are used to. It's great, and it exacts
a great price.
The most likely alternative to deep honesty
the other end of the spectrum is a safe, wasted,
hidden, lonely unlived life. Is that what you were afraid of?
You can start doing something about it today. Let's get started.
HONESTY'S PRACTICAL ADVANTAGES
This section started when a talk show called
me to ask if I'd be willing to be a guest on a program called
Is Honesty the Best Policy? In preparing myself to talk
to the producer about it, I looked over the information I'd collected
over the years and looking at it all at once like this, I realized
this subject had not been covered the way I think it deserves
to be covered. So I wrote this this article.
I haven't always been honest. When I first
met Klassy, my wife, who has been honest her whole life, she
had a difficult time getting me to open up and be more honest.
It was a rough ride for both of us. But I am glad I became more
honest. By not pretending, by speaking up about what I want and
what I feel, by allowing myself to be what I am without apology,
I have become a better, happier, more relaxed person, and my
relationship with Klassy is closer than I've ever experienced
with anyone, by a long shot. And, according to the studies, my
health is better, too. Let's look at some of the research.
more closeness in relationships
One of the biggest advantages of becoming
more honest is that your relationships will be closer. That is,
you'll have a greater feeling of connection to the people you're
honest with and you'll feel more love for them. John Gottman,
a researcher at the University of Washington and the author of
The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening
Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships, found to his surprise
that some couples who avoid disagreements stay together. Yes,
you read that right. These marriages are "successful"
in the sense that they are long-lasting. But Gottman also found
they are lonely marriages.
You can avoid conflict by hiding your likes
and dislikes, but you forfeit closeness. Part of feeling close
to someone is that they know you. And the only way for someone
to get to know you is for you to be honest.
It's ironic that the main reason people
avoid conflict is because they want to be loved. We pretend to
be what we aren't, to like what we don't like, we don't speak
up about what we really want or feel. We don't want disagreements.
We don't want to be rejected. We don't want to hurt the other
person or be hurt by them. We want love.
But, as Klassy has told me many times,
love flows on a communication line. Communication is like
a pipeline between two people. The more open we are, the more
open the pipeline. And this same pipeline is how love and affection
flow from one person to another, so the more open the pipeline,
the more love and affection can flow through it.
By hiding parts of themselves, people narrow
the pipeline, thus closing off the very thing that they want
in their attempt to get it.
Become more open and honest with the people
you love, and you open the channel. You'll experience greater
love and affection.
relationships improve over time
Another thing Gottman discovered about
"avoidant couples" (couples who tend to avoid disagreement)
is that when they first get married, they were happier
than honest couples. They were happier with their marriage.
But three years later, the situation had
reversed. The avoidant couples weren't as satisfied with their
marriage and more of them had divorced or were headed for divorce.
And the more honest, open couples were now happier with their
marriages because their marriages had improved.
Honesty helps relationships improve. Honesty
allows problems to be solved. You can't solve a problem if you
don't really know what it's about! It's like two people trying
to put together a jigsaw puzzle when one of you has some pieces
in your pocket. It doesn't matter how committed you are or how
hard you try, you will never be able to solve that puzzle. Honesty
helps relationships improve over time.
higher quality people in your life
Julian Rotter of the University of Connecticut
compared the social lives of habitually honest people with the
social lives of people who agreed with statements like You
have to hide your feelings from others and You can't afford
to be honest. He found that honest people had a tendency
to attract trustworthy, truthful, supportive people into their
lives. The less honest people tended to attract disloyal, evasive,
unreliable people into their lives.
Your honesty literally repels dishonest
people away from you and attracts honest people to you. Dishonesty
repels honest people and attracts dishonest people into your
So simply by becoming more honest, the
quality of the people you interact with will improve over time.
better physical health
Researchers have studied this one quite
a bit. The leader of the pack is James Pennebaker of Southern
Methodist University, author of Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions.
The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of
Health have helped fund his research. Pennebaker found that people
who habitually withhold information about themselves, especially
about traumatic events, are much more susceptible to contagious
diseases than people who are more open and honest.
One qualification you should know about
is that you should only reveal your honesty to people you can
trust. But given that limitation, honesty improves your immune
system. It's good for your physical health.
better mental health
In a survey of 425 psychologists, social
workers, psychiatrists, and marriage and family counselors, almost
all of them (96%) thought that becoming more "open, genuine,
and honest" was an essential requirement for mental health.
Let me point out that they didn't merely think honesty was a
good idea. These people, who spend every day working with peoples'
real-life problems, are convinced that honesty is essential
for mental health. A requirement.
Of course. Think about it. Sanity entails
dealing with reality. Honesty is about reality. It's about admitting
the truth to yourself and also admitting it to others. Honesty
equals sanity. Deceit and pretense are bad for your mental health.
feel better in general
In a study by Santa Clara University in
California, researchers found that people who habitually keep
secrets, especially about embarrassing or painful experiences,
tend to suffer from
more aches and pains
And they have higher levels of depression
and anxiety. Dishonesty produces unpleasant side-effects. Becoming
more honest will make you feel better in general.
suffer less stress
The reason a needle jumps around so much
on a lie detector is that lying is stressful. So is pretending,
withholding, and misleading. If a person is dishonest with a
stranger, the event is only temporarily stressful. But in a close
relationship, the deceit needs to be maintained, which causes
You can't relax and be yourself when you're
hiding and pretending.
Often honesty causes conflict, which also
causes stress. But greater honesty will lower your stress level
in the long run. Problems get solved. You no longer have the
ongoing stress of hiding and pretending.
When you're honest, people tend to trust
you. I have seen no scientific studies on this, but I'll bet
the research will eventually prove it true. People can sense
And when you're honest, you trust yourself
more. It takes a certain amount of discipline to be honest and
in the demonstration of your honesty, you learn you can count
on yourself. So another side-effect of being honest is that you'll
feel better about yourself.
Become more honest and people will trust
you more. And you'll trust yourself and feel better about yourself.
INTELLIGENT, SKILLFUL HONESTY
Honesty is honesty, and it really needs
no skill. However, to make your honesty easier on the people
you love, to make it easier for them, to make it less likely
to cause a divorce, to make sure it doesn't get you fired, there
are some useful things to know. Here they are:
the transformation of criticism
Never criticize. That is one of the most
important rules for skillful honesty. It seems that this rule
would prevent you from being honest, but it doesn't. One way
to avoid criticizing is to become less honest: keep your mouth
shut or lie about what you really feel. The other way to avoid
criticizing is to become more honest.
The fact is, a criticism is not an honest
statement. Remember that. A criticism is not honest. "You
are an inconsiderate jerk" is not an honest statement; it's
A criticism tends to be an overgeneralization
rather than an accurate statement. It also tends to attack the
person rather than the action.
You can immediately improve your honesty
and make your communication more productive by upgrading your
criticisms into complaints. I don't like it when you forget
my birthday is more honest than You are an inconsiderate
jerk. It's more honest and it's easier for the person to
listen to. It's easier to accept. It's less likely to cause an
upset or an argument.
You can take it a step further and upgrade
your criticism to a request. Now we're really getting direct
and effective. I want you to make it up to me; I want you
to take me out to dinner. A request is an honest, direct
statement of what you want. It is kinder, more respectful, and
future-oriented. It is even easier to hear than a complaint because
you're not talking about the past (which has already happened
and which you cannot change), you're talking about the future.
There is no blame in the future and something can be done
I can't emphasize it enough: Criticism
is not honesty. You don't care about me is not an honest
statement. It is an accusation and an attempt at mind reading.
Be more accurate: When you forgot my birthday, I felt sad.
I still feel sad, because the only way I can imagine myself forgetting
your birthday is if I didn't care about you anymore.
Accusations and criticisms are not honest
expressions. To turn them into honest statements, try this rule
of thumb: Make your sentences start with I feel or I
want. But that simple technique won't work by itself. You
have to make sure you're telling the most accurate truth you
can. I feel you're an idiot isn't accurate. You're an
idiot is not a feeling. Feelings are very basic: Angry, sad,
happy, afraid, worried, frustrated, etc.
One of the rules of Buddhism is what they
call the practice of nonharming. That is, trying not to
harm other living beings. What a beautiful concept. Speaking
honestly is a way of "nonharming" yourself, and speaking
honestly without blaming or attacking is a way of "nonharming"
Intelligent, skillful honesty includes
upgrading your criticisms to complaints and your complaints to
the 25-minute rule
Try never to discuss anything when you're
upset. John Gottman, the researcher from the University of Washington,
found that when your heart rate goes above 100 beats per minute,
you have so much adrenaline flooding your system that your body
is in a fight-or-flight mode. This stressful, all-systems-on-full-alarm
state is not a good state to be in when you're trying to work
things out with another person.
When you're upset, your point of view becomes
narrow and one-sided, your empathy disappears, your perception
is distorted, and your level of rationality drops. It is more
difficult to be honest when you're upset. And it is much harder
for the other person to listen to you.
Honesty needs to be expressed with respect
for the other, with appreciation for the point of view of the
other. Good basic human relations skills should be used to make
honest communications not received in a way that attacks, demeans,
or insults the person in a way that communicates information
rather that communicating to punish. Making sure you never
try to talk when you're upset is one way to help this happen.
Sometimes when you speak honestly, the
listener will get upset. When they get upset, it tends to upset
you, and your upset tends to further upset the other in an escalating
feedback loop. When you feel yourself getting upset, take a break.
You can even go so far as to measure your heart rate. I've done
this. I have a watch that measures your heart rate, and once
Klassy and I were arguing and I felt a little upset, so I checked
my heart rate. It was 120! And I didn't even feel very upset.
The normal, resting heart rate for a man
is around 72. For a woman it is 82. If your heart rate is above
100, take a break. Even a slight increase has an effect. Gottman
found that when the heart rate rises to only 80 beats per minute
for a man and 90 for a woman, "physiological arousal makes
it hard to focus on what the other person is saying, which leads
to increased defensiveness and hostility." He also found
that in a disagreement, a man's heart rate and blood pressure
rise much higher than a woman's. Other research shows that although
the woman's blood pressure doesn't rise as high in an argument,
it remains elevated longer.
One of Gottman's most helpful discoveries
is that it takes about 20-25 minutes for the body to calm back
down to a normal level after being upset. That's why we recommend
taking a break from an upsetting conversation. Then you can come
back and talk about it without the being upset.
But when you take a break, don't just go
sit in a silent room and run the conversation over and over through
your head, proving your point and finding all the reasons your
partner is completely out of his or her mind! Your body will
never calm down that way. When you take a break, do something
that engages your mind. You want to get your mind completely
off the argument. Watch TV, read a book, listen to a self-help
tape, listen to music, do some engaging work, go for a walk.
But do not suppress your thoughts. Suppressing
a thought makes it stronger and more insistent. Simply get involved
in something that requires your full attention. Your mind will
have to temporarily let the argument go, and then your body can
I used to really go crazy during arguments
with Klassy. I would get so upset I was beside myself. And the
intensity of my upset would just make things worse. One of the
main things that freaked me out so much was my thought that this
might be The End. I somehow assumed that if we were arguing that
intensely, it might lead to a divorce.
Klassy rarely got that upset, and now I
realize part of it may be simply that she's a woman and not biologically
as prone to upset. But I once asked her how she kept from being
so upset, and she shared a technique with me that really helped
me calm down. She imagines the worst. She also sometimes felt
that this argument would lead to divorce, but she didn't suppress
the thought, she followed it through. Okay, let's say we get
divorced. Then what? She let herself imagine what would happen.
We would move to different living places. She imagined what her
life would be like without me. She imagined herself going on
and finding another, better man, and being happy in the future.
When I tried this, I found it very effective.
I faced the horror and realized I would survive and even go on
with my life and eventually even have fun even if this
were The End. This made it easier for me to calm down, and kept
our fights from getting out of hand. I used it for many years
and I can't tell you how many hours of my life I saved by using
it. I now pass this excellent technique on to you.
When you have calmed down, think about
the situation again. You'll be able to think about it more reasonably.
Then go back and continue the conversation. You'll find your
discussion is a lot more productive when you're calm. Take a
break when it gets heated. This is skillful honesty.
one thing at a time
Probably all of us at one time or another
have made this mistake: Avoid speaking up about several things
because you don't really want to create an upset. And then something
finally snaps and makes you angry. Then, you figure since you
already have an upset to deal with, you start bringing up everything
else that has bothered you for the last six months. This is a
harmful way to be honest. It overwhelms the listener, making
it hard to listen. And it is difficult, even in the best of moods,
to deal with more than one issue at a time.
The rule is, keep your conversation on
one subject at a sitting. Deal with only one issue at a time.
When the conversation starts to drift into other subjects, bring
it back. Say something like, We can deal with that another
time; let's just talk about this one thing for now. Make
a note of it if you need to make sure you'll remember.
Anger is a courageous emotion. But it is
also destructive and reckless. Many people think that anger should
be communicated because it is unhealthy to hold it in. But this
is a misrepresentation of the facts.
The expression of the emotion of anger
only serves to make you angrier. It does not "vent"
it. It doesn't get rid of the feeling. This has been proven several
different ways in research, but you can demonstrate it to yourself
simply by paying attention.
Withholding the things you want to say
in order to avoid dealing with it doesn't work either. It has
negative consequences for your health and for your relationships.
But there is a third alternative. You can
communicate what you are angry about, but not while you're
angry. Think about what is making you angry. Try to turn
your criticisms and accusations into honest statements about
what you want (requests) and what you feel. And then wait until
you feel calm. Then sit down and communicate. That is the sanest,
most productive, healthiest way to do it. And talk about one
thing at a time.
You'll mess up. We all do. You'll sometimes
burst out with anger and be sorry afterwards for some of the
things you said, not because they were honest, but because they
were overstated and hurtful. When you make a mistake like this,
don't criticize yourself either. Make vows about how you will
do it in the future. Use all that energy you have, all that intensity,
all that bad feeling of being sorry and ashamed and channel it
into the future. Channel it into a renewed determination to follow
the guidelines in this section. That is the skillful, intelligent
way to deal with mistakes.
When you say something honest, the other
person will probably have a reaction to it. Sometimes it is a
negative reaction. Sometimes it is a very intensely negative
reaction. That is the time to listen. Listen with all your heart.
Really listen. By that I mean doing these three things:
1. Give the person your full attention.
When your mind wanders, when you have the impulse to say
something, when you find yourself criticizing what they're saying,
and mentally making a case for "your side," calmly
and gently, but firmly bring your mind back to what the person
is trying to tell you.
2. Don't interrupt. The temptation
is very powerful. But the whole conversation will be so much
more productive if you can restrain yourself. Keep listening.
You can have your say later. Right now is the time to let them
unload themselves. Let them unburden their thoughts. Help them
3. Let them feel whatever they feel.
Don't try to talk them out of feeling that way. Never say or
imply You shouldn't feel that way. If that's the way they feel
at the moment, that's the way they feel. Accept it. Remind yourself
that feelings change. But right now, that's the way they feel.
You will hear them making mistakes and criticizing rather than
telling you really how they feel. This is not the time to teach
them new skills. You can talk about that some other time. Right
now try to understand as best as you can what they are feeling.
When you listen well, it helps make your
conversations constructive. It helps your discussions get somewhere,
accomplish something. Information and understanding will be able
to flow between you, allowing your pipeline to widen, leading
to a greater feeling of closeness and affection between you.
what you speak into
It really helps if you have plenty of positivity
already in your relationship before you speak a difficult truth.
Specifically, plenty of these:
2. acts of caring
3. demonstrations of respect
If there is a good amount of this stuff
going on between you, your relationship can more easily handle
a difficult communication than if you lack it. In the absence
of a positive condition, an honest statement can be especially
upsetting and disruptive.
the master discipline
Practice speaking the strict truth. This
is much harder than it seems on first glance. If you took this
one principle and practiced it, really concentrated on it for
a few weeks, you'd be surprised at your new level of honesty.
When you are trying to say something honest to someone, it makes
a difference if you are being very strict with yourself about
how you're saying it. To make our case, we tend to exaggerate
or skew the facts in our favor. To dramatize your point, you
might feel tempted to say something that if you really thought
about it, you know isn't the absolute truth. Restrain yourself.
Be careful about this.
Overgeneralization is a pretty common mistake,
especially when feeling hurt or angry. You never
Try to be specific. Yesterday you didn't
call me. Say only what you know to be strictly true. It keeps
your communication more honest, and it is way more productive.
For one thing, you won't get sidetracked into petty squabbles
about whether you really always do this or really never say that.
This is the master discipline. If you focus
on only one principle, this is it, because many of the other
principles are really subcategories of this one.
HONESTY IS THE BEST policy. Not
because someone in authority says it is. Not because you might
get found out. But because it has practical benefits in your
life benefits that outweigh the costs in the long run
by a long shot.