What is compassionate honesty and why are we even discussing it? We all have a societal foundation that says honesty is a virtuous quality and most of us know the difference between truth and a lie. (Besides, our current government anyway.) The reason I bring this up is because no matter how strong our ethical standing about truth and lies is, honesty is convoluted and a heck of a lot more complicated within ourselves and in our relationships. I believe radical/compassionate honesty promotes freedom of choice, in turn enabling us and our partner/s to be true to our/themselves. When we are compassionately honest with our partner/s we create a trusting relationship that enables more depth of intimacy and a further exploration into our capacity to love more generously.
First, let us address the philosophical elephant in the room…What is Truth? We could argue for days over what Truth means existentially, ethically or societally. And, therefore, we could never have a conversation about honesty. For the specifics of this article and my motivation to discuss the importance of honesty, I am going to stick with a certain ideology about truth. Internal truth is what we tell our selves is true, and external is what we tell others is true. This relates to subjective and objective truth. Subjective truth is colored by our own perspective. We may believe something is true, but it is not based in objective reality. This type of truth can’t be argued because it is completely in the eye of the beholder. Objective truth is actual shared experience by the world. Some would argue that this truth is mutable as well, but for the sake of honesty in relationships, we will say there is a shared objective truth that we can call fact. For example: I had sex with my partner last night, is fact. Whether it was fulfilling or not is subjectively based on the perception of the individual.
Being compassionately honest with others is important to living a life of authenticity. In love relationships honesty is can be sticky. We don’t want to hurt the people we love, so we bend or emit truths. We tell ourselves that we are protecting them, we weigh out the benefits and risks and act accordingly. But what we don’t consider is that we are assuming we know what is better for them. Assuming we know them better than they know themselves is disrespectful and undermining. It is empowering to our partner/s to know what is going on with us. They probably already feel something is going on, if so then not being honest will promote them making assumptions as well, ending up with a lot of hurt feelings about something that no one actually knows to be true. When we consider their feelings and what they should or shouldn’t know, we need to try to discern whether we are protecting ourselves from a reaction we may not like or if we are actually protecting and empowering them.
I am not saying we must tell our partners everything we are feeling or thinking, as feelings and thoughts change and pass. One day we may be overwhelmed with resentment, anger or just plain annoyance with our partner, but realize later that it was not that big of a deal. We can see the big picture. We can see that our feelings and thoughts are not always truths. When we practice compassionate honesty, we can embrace the fact that our perceptions are not truth for everyone. When we can see that our partners internal truths are different, then we are able to use discernment in what we think we know and what actually is going on, lending to a compassionate process of being true to ourselves with them.
Lying or emitting the truth of an actual fact or action is where we take away our partner’s freedom of choice, completely. We all have the ability to recognize when it is important to be honest. Honesty is taking responsibility for our actions. It is scary and uncomfortable, but it is the only way we can be authentic and to have integrity. Every time we lie, we put a rock in our pocket and our partner’s. It will weigh down the relationship, preventing deep intimacy.
The compassionate part of this is in how and when we are honest. We consider that what we have to say may cause an emotional reaction. So how we express it can be critical. First, be direct, don’t beat around the bush and make it convoluted. Secondly, come from love and kindness, restraining from any defensiveness. Thirdly, take full responsibility for the action. We made the choice to take an action, they did not cause it or force our hand. This part is critical in compassionate honesty, taking full responsibility for our actions it the most difficult thing to do for any of us, but it frees us and our partners. We then can learn from our mistakes and move on.
Being honest about our actions gives our partners the power and freedom to make the choices they deserve to make. If the honesty of our actions, genuine thoughts and feelings creates a scenario that our partner can’t live with, that is their choice. If we really don’t want to lose the relationship, then we need to make every single decision around that desire. If we break an agreement that you made with our partner, we need to understand that the consequences may be losing them. And if we do break an agreement and choose not to be honest about it, we are taking away their freedom. They don’t have the choice to change their side of the agreement, or to move on to another relationship that honors what they feel is important.
Honesty is a way in which we can honor our partners heart and soul. And taking responsibility honors our own, by giving us the ability to learn who we are and what we really want. Clearing ourselves of the burden of the lie, leaves room for growth. Holding a lie hinders our self-esteem and our energetic movement towards being the partner we really want to be. The more we practice compassionate honesty, the easier it gets. The more natural it becomes and the more we can connect and find deep intimacy with others.