This past week I’ve been struggling with my visceral anger towards Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and the ridicule he’s brought to our city. Those of you who know me are aware that I have a history of addiction issues as well, so if anyone should be able to cut Mayor Ford some slack, it should come from people like me, but that is definitely not the case. What I’m most upset about is the complete lack of honesty coming from the Mayor. So, today I thought I’d write my post about honesty and how it is the cornerstone of every “authentic” relationship.
A great place to begin is with a quote from the American writer Spencer Johnson: “Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.” I really love this distinction between integrity and honesty because so often we use these terms interchangeably, but when we dig a little deeper, we see that honesty is built on a bedrock of integrity. I may not respect Mayor Ford’s actions, but as a recovering addict, I do understand where he is coming from. When you spend a lot of time in 12-step meetings with other struggling addicts, you learn to recognize who is trying to make the program work and who is not ready to do the work to make a real change in their life. For lack of a better expression, your “bullshit meter” becomes finally attuned to other addicts who lack the integrity to change from within. You may indeed believe that you’re being honest with those around you, but if you’re not being honest with yourself (integrity), your promises are destined to fall short of people’s expectations.
My wife and I are facilitating a Partners’ Group at a treatment centre for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and during the past 2 months, we’ve been developing the curriculum. One of the themes that we have had to weave into each group session is the need for the participants to be able to lean into uncomfortable, yet authentic, discussions with their partner. This process has been such a blessing in my relationship with my wife because it has given us the opportunity to redefine how we relate to each other and how we can invite honesty into our discussions at home.
I believe most couples strive to be truthful and honest with each other, but whenever a challenge comes into the relationship (in our case it was my disclosure that I had been sexually abused as a child), our natural tendency is to treat the relationship with tenderness, as if it were a fabric that would tear.
In order to facilitate honest conversations with my partner, I need to make sure I’m operating from a base of integrity. So, how do you do that? For me, it’s a matter of asking myself a few challenging questions. (1) Am I approaching this discussion with the belief that “it’s all about me”, or am I actively trying to empathize with how my partner feels? (2) Where is the role of my “self esteem” in this, and am allowing shame to taint my perception of reality? (3) Am I hiding anything, “sugar coating” anything, or underplaying anything? I may not like the answers to these questions, but facing them directly is the stepping stone to being truthful in my discussions with my partner.
It seems so simple, yet we appear blind to the fact that if we can’t be honest with ourselves, we can’t help but be deceitful to those we love the most. So many relationships break down because people are resentful of their partner and because authentic conversations never occur. Any solution to a relationship problem we come up with that has been built on lies and half-truths is doomed to fail because it is not rooted in a solid bedrock of integrity. I’d like to leave you with a quote from the American novelist John D. MacDonald: “Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn't blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won't cheat, then you know he never will."