As Lorne Daniel notes, there is such a thing a being too honest.
We have all met the person who loudly proclaims his or her honesty, at the expense of everything and everyone in their path.
“I just like to be honest,” she says, after trashing a child’s new artwork. Or “frankly, this project isn’t worth a dime” at a business meeting.
“I know I’m blunt,” some people will say, “but I just don’t like to beat around the bush.” Yes, there can be too much avoidance and obfuscation in human interactions. Our language overflows with euphemisms.
Yet in the guise of being clear and up-front, the pusher of honesty is often all about a single-minded focus on his own opinions and an avoidance of reasoned thought. It’s easier to be a bulldozer than a listener.
I’ve been dabbling in Stoic philosophy recently. One aspect of it that really attracts me is the call for virtues to be interwoven and balanced. A single virtue, practiced in isolation and without counterbalances, is in fact not a virtue.
We all sense this. We know that you can have “too much of a good thing” in human virtues just as we can overdo ice cream or perfume. We can be too industrious. Too dutiful. Too frugal. Too tenacious.
Political contests attract these “one virtue” campaigners. Particularly, it seems to me, in the United States, where candidates with the most simplified messages get the fastest uptake from media and an electorate with attention-deficit issues. Whether the theme is family values, or “war against crime” (a strange conflation of terms) or protection of individual rights, a one-note political philosophy attracts many supporters.
I suspect this is so because, frankly, it’s easier. Simpler. We live in a hugely complex world. Sorting out the right mix of attitudes, ideas and perceptions in ever-changing scenarios is tiring work.
We all long for simplicity. Hence, the temptation to adopt one virtue as our personal calling card and run with it. “I’m all about honesty.” Or “all the world needs is more compassion.”
Sure, be honest. And compassionate. And rigorous. And flexible. Give a try at a nuanced, integrated application of human virtues.
Imagine all those virtues as the 88 keys of a piano. Wouldn’t you rather hear a concerto or a jazz riff on that keyboard than an incessant pounding on one key?
“People Who are Brutally Honest” © 2009 Marty Coleman | Make Studio. Flickr Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.