This entry is the second part of a series inspired by a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: BE SILLY. BE HONEST. BE KIND. If you follow either Chris or me as we drive, you’ll see this helpful message on a magnetic bumper sticker.
Honesty may seem to be in short supply these days. Not just at the highest rungs of the political ladder, but perhaps also invisibly spread through various sectors of leadership. Telling lies—or shading the truth with alternate facts and spin—tears at the fabric of society. In some occupations, gentle forms of dishonesty can even become a job-related skill.
This gradual darkening of the moral center of our society seems especially disturbing until I look at my own conversational patterns. If I’m candid about my encounters with others—including those close to me—I’m likely to find the same tendencies to falsification bumping their way to the surface of my personality. I’m certainly capable of exaggerations, partial truths, verbal sleights-of-hand and situational duplicities. In some difficult situations “speaking the truth in love” can be only my second or third choice for how to react. Truthfulness may be something I demand more of others than of myself.
This isn’t the whole story, though. I’ve also noticed how consistent honesty seems to be prevalent among many of the older adults I know. I’m not sure whether they’ve always thought and acted truthfully, but in their later years, many elders seem especially capable of honesty. (In my lexicon, there’s intellectual honesty—dealing with facts—and emotional honesty—dealing with feelings, identity or states of being.)
In my ongoing conversations with the older adults I have visited over the years, I have experienced startling moments where their candor cut through the relational fog, when their scruples didn’t bend to accommodate the situation. When they weren’t always faux-nice. When their sincerity shone like a light and their openness invited my own authenticity. (My weekly conversations with one 92-year old woman’s matter-of-fact honesty sometimes feels like little jolts of relational energy that reset my character in the right direction. I should probably tell her that, hmm?)
Elders who are straightforward don’t seem to worry about the fallout from their honesty. Perhaps by a certain age they don’t have anything to lose by being open, so there’s every reason to tell it like it is. Or maybe their older-age authenticity is a fresh and helpful way of relating to others. It’s even possible that folks who have previously felt trapped inside the realm of dishonesty—are now free to let their integrity define them.
Truthfulness lies at the heart of trust, and trust is a core element of positive relationships. This may turn older truth-tellers into prophets for those of us who are still struggling to become mature. Their reliable honesty can be part of God’s voice in our lives, gentle reminders that we can resist dishonesty, too.
I’m probably not quite there yet—complete honesty can sometimes feel like something dangerous. So I respect everyone who has somehow reached a consistent level of forthrightness. The strength of others’ integrity can be a compelling motivation for me to set aside my truth-trickiness. To reciprocate as completely as possible.
So, if you’re one of those admirable people whose honesty is a sturdy part of your character, thanks for how you remind the rest of us how we can be a positive and helpful part of God’s righteousness.
(Next time: Being kind.)
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