The many forms of ‘dishonesty’

It’s one of the worst things to hear from someone else. If someone accuses you of not being completely honest, your instinct will probably be defensive. If you’re anything like most of us, you feel like you’re being honest all the time.

By definition, if you feel like you’re being honest, then you are being honest. Which is to say that the common interpretation of the term honesty is one of ‘volition’ (a complicated issue in and of itself). To be dishonest, you must actively say something you do not think is true. You must know you aren’t being honest in that present moment. In my experience, very few people actually say things they explicitly and consciously know aren’t true. The more I look at it the more I realize no one is doing it on purpose, so let’s just leave ‘blame’ at the door. It never seems to get us anywhere anyway.

Despite this, tons of people are considered dishonest all the time. We see it every single day. We run around the world bouncing off each other like pinballs in the world’s most intriguing machine, creating new memories and describing them across social networks in a state of constant experience and ‘re-experience’.

A key component of the modern world is this ‘re-experience’, this state of re-imagining and reflection. It’s here, in the description of what occurred in the past as a present and subjective party, where the misinterpreted dishonesty lives.

And it doesn’t just come in one flavor. Here are a few interpretative dances around the concept of dishonesty:

Mother’s Love Dishonesty

At some point in your life, your mom probably thought you were just the cutest, smartest, bestest little boy or girl around. At first sight, this seems pretty damn nice. You’ve got this adult, wise in the way of the world, who just thinks you’re the best thing since sliced bread. High five ma!

But it’s a lie, of course. It’s one mom believes down into her bones, deep into the deepest corner of her proverbially soul. She’s not a liar, but she’s not being completely honest. She’s swimming in bias, and no one in the world can hold that against her.

However, when kids become little monsters and start picking on other kids and just all around being dicks, moms have a hard time believing it (teachers — post your stories below :) ). They lie both to themselves and their children, refusing to let go of their glorified image of their children. Look, I’m not casting stones here and not every parent does this. It’s just something we should be aware of.

Now, that kid grows up. They feel they truly are something special. They achieve relatively great things, or maybe not. Either way, they feel like they should’ve accomplished more.

Us old folk constantly whine and complain about the upcoming generation, holding our hands up in defense that our generation didn’t have trouble with this shit. We worked, we built great things, we saved the world!

But the truth is, we accidentally lied to ourselves and our children about who and what we are as people. We infused in them godlike expectation, and grew angry when they believed it. This is a dishonesty that will always exist, but one we should tread lightly with. Be aware of it, help our kids keep both feet on the ground. The hot air balloon of ego is filled with (you guessed it) mostly just hot air.

Lego Movie Dishonesty

Ever seen The Lego Movie? If no — skip to the next subheading and/or go watch it now. If yes — awesome ;). Right, so. Everything is awesome… when you’re living in a dream.

Or, another way to put it — Living in a dream where everything is awesome is pretty alarming shit. You cringed a little, I get it. Uh oh, here comes a pessimist.

Right. I get it, but hear me out anyway. If we tell ourselves everything is awesome, we create a relationship with reality that’s unsustainable. Awesome and… not awesome (?), are defined as a spectrum. Anything that can be considered ‘awesome’ is only ‘awesome’ relative to things that aren’t ‘awesome’. This isn’t an optional perspective, this is the way we define the symbols we call words in order to use them. If everything is always going to be great, then everything is actually just normal.

When we run around spouting optimism, particularly in the world of social networks, we make those around us feel like they are less awesome by comparison. This creates a reaction where they shout about awesomeness too. The chain reaction is uncontrollable, the reverberations are still shaking our well-being right now. The truth is, only awesome things are awesome. Everything else is just accidental and probably well-intentioned dishonesty.

The Narcissists Dishonesty

Now, before you go getting all defensive (ironically, in a narcissistic fashion), keep in mind we literally define our species via language through narcissism. You say ‘I’, and alienate yourself from the rest of ‘us’. We all do it, every day all the time. It’s okay. It’s nothing to beat yourself up for.

That being said — it creates a unique form of bias. Just as the human species seems to understand everything except itself, so too do you understand everyone else more objectively (though not more thoroughly) than you understand yourself. It’s a funhouse of distorted mirrors in these egos of ours, and we’re bound to misinterpret what we see.

This type of dishonesty is simple, clean and oddly honest. It’s the dishonesty we cast at our own reflection, hoping to change what we see into what we want to see. Rationalization is the weapon, and the self-inflicted pain can be quite real. Those of you who suffer from depression, social anxiety, low self-esteem or whatever other labels our psychoanalytical fellow humans may banter about, this is a form of dishonesty you may want to keep in careful check.

Here’s the problem. Pretend you are socially anxious and a little depressed. You are out with friends, reflecting on how they may later reflect on you. You are thinking “Self — I suck. Nothing I say is funny, I’m not the prettiest one in the group, I said something stupid, oh god what if I insulted her when I said that?” The list goes on, most of us can relate to this. Some of us suffer from it. Pathologically.

Now, as you conduct this reflective narcissism you find yourself falling deeper into a dishonesty you don’t realize you are succumbing to. Surely you wouldn’t imagine something bad for yourself, right? If you were lying to yourself, you’d be nice about it… right? Well — probably not. Lying is lying, whether you’re victimizing yourself or not. The more people I get to know well, the more I realize that people do this to themselves all the time.

So yeah. Let’s cut that shit out.

Straight Up Lying

Now, if you’re human and haven’t read enough Alan Watts, you’re probably wondering when you can actually blame someone for being dishonest. As always, society has carved us a path towards needless blame, which you can walk if you like (though I’d suggest against it). Sometimes people deliberately li, even though they’re aware they’re doing it. It’s true. It’s hard to believe sometimes, but it’s true.

I’ve been lied to. When people deliberately lie and you point it out, they usually react in a few distinctive ways. If they’re friends/family who are weird like mine (hi guys :) ), they might actually laugh (uncomfortably). They knew, and that’s why they’re uncomfortable. They may also have a well-prepared defense of the lie. One that is so clean you’ll suspect they thought it through first. Others will wrap the truth so closely in the lie, and with such deliberation, you’ll see the strategy itself.

The cause and effect that resulted in these lies is often complex, and something the individual has justified or rationalized. Worse, it’s seemingly true that people subconsciously succumb to bias and craft themselves a lie without consciously realizing it.

If you find someone being dishonest, either with themselves or others, do the world a favor. Don’t blame them. Help them. Most liars are just uncomfortable with themselves, drowning in their delusions. Set your feet with whatever objectivity you can muster, and reach out a hand. They’ll thank you for it later.

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