Phillip Smith

Honesty and acceptance

Reflections on turning 40

When I woke this morning, the first day of my forty-first year, I thought to myself: going forward there is one idea that will guide me in life, above all others, and that is honesty.

Call it what you will – radical honesty, microscopic truth, total transparency, proactive honesty, or just plain ol’ honesty – but don’t underestimate the change that it can bring. It is this one simple idea – honesty – that has had the most profound and lasting impact on my life this last year, and I will choose it again and again.

My close friends will likely roll their eyes at these words, as they’ve heard my gospel on honesty many times no doubt, but I’ve seen the change that it has had in their lives too. And when it comes across as gospel, friends, remember that I too am just a novice on this path, imperfect, and trying to find my way.

But the thing that is clear to me now is that when I reach a fork in the road of life, there is only one lamp that will show me the way, and that lamp will be honesty, plain and simple.

I imagine how it must sound, reading a reflection on honesty, as before this year I thought myself an honest person through and through. But when inspected closely, my honesty – both with myself, and with others – was partial at best, and I suspect that is the norm not the exception.

It was little things said to make a situation more comfortable or, inversely, small details left out to avoid a misunderstanding. It is a silence at the end of a conversation unresolved. It is the answer given to please others. It is working within the confines of the “socially acceptable.” The motive was almost always the same, not wanting to unnecessarily hurt another person, but I no longer believe that even the purest motives justify half-truths or concealment. There is a liberation that comes from embracing the idea that people deserve the truth.

There is a balance to this scale, however: on the one side is honesty, on the other side is acceptance.

To embrace honesty, I have to surrender the outcome of any given situation and trust that it will resolve fairly: I have to be ready to accept any outcome and recognize that, with honesty, I have no hold or sway over what that outcome might be. I have to acknowledge that when I was withholding honesty, it was to effect the outcome of a given situation, to make it work out in a way that was better for me – perhaps less uncomfortable, less dramatic, or to my benefit. With honesty, the outcome is in hands of the other, and that is the way it should be.

But this is what I believe it means “to reveal rather than conceal”: it is the greatest form of respect to look another person in the eyes and to say “you can hear this truth;” to know that they are able to hear it; to trust that they can find a way to integrate or resolve it; to have faith that the outcome – no matter what it is – is the correct one. And to accept that outcome. That is honesty to me.

It has been the most challenging to be radically honest with those that are closest to me – my family, my life partners, my closest and dearest friends – because those are the relationships that I cherish the most, those are the relationships where I feel like I have the most to lose, those are the relationships with the most emotional tension. The irony of this is not uncommon, I would guess. But in this past year I have chosen a new path and, one step at a time, that is changing.

And each time in my life when I am proactively transparent, each day that I choose to reveal rather than conceal, and each moment when I can share or receive a microscopic truth with someone close … I feel that much closer to knowing myself, that much more confident that others know and accept me, and I feel a little bit more liberated from the bonds that I have confined myself with for so long.

Perhaps it will be that way for you too.


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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