I’ve seen a lot of nasty email and Facebook exchanges. One community was discussing what it meant to be honest, to trust, and what betrayal in community and interpersonal relationships.
I think there’s a couple of ways to look at honesty, and along with it, being nice, being authentic, and acting as a healer.
A friend of mine can say she’s being honest when she tells me, “Honestly, that dress really doesn’t do anything for your figure.” That’s a definition of honesty, but it might not be nice.
And depending on the friend, this particular form of honesty might be the kind of honesty where my friend is cutting me down, either intentionally or not realizing it. Perhaps her honesty is more about her than me. Mabye she’s embarrassed to be out with me because she thinks I look like a hippie and she wants me to look more professional.
Similar to that is when I offer someone honesty like this: Someone asks me to help them move, and instead of being nice and making the excuse, “I’m sorry, I’m really busy this weekend and I’d help you if I could,” I’m honest and I say, “I’m sorry, I’m exhausted from traveling and I’m choosing to take some time to myself.” That kind of honesty most people can’t handle. I can think of a few very trusted friends I’d actually be that transparent with, and those are the friends who know that I’m running myself ragged with writing an teaching for the Pagan community.
I’m that open and honest with people when I have a certain relationship with someone, whether it’s a very deep friendship, or if I have a contract with a community member, student, or leader. In this case, I’m committing to honesty with a person.
With a close friend I might point out that they are in an abusive relationship and consistently making the choice to stay there, and offer the suggestion that they can get help–and specifically offer that I will help them, vs. just nodding and agreeing, “Yeah, that jerk,” and letting the pattern continue because it’s too uncomfortable to address directly.
Feedback and Honesty
With a community member or student, I might offer feedback, “At the ritual last night, you were offering an invocation, and the poetry was beautiful, but I was having a hard time hearing you.”
With a community leader, I might offer feedback, “I noticed at the last event you hosted that you addressed several participants in a way that was aggressive, which impacted the energy of the group, and I believe that a different approach might serve your intention better.”
In all of the cases, I’m being honest, and it’s a hard honesty. Can you sense the difference between the honesty that is coming from a place of compassion, love, and healing, vs. the “honesty” that is really about cutting down the other person?
When Nice isn’t Nice
Similarly, there’s a place where nice isn’t nice–when I don’t tell someone the hard thing. If I don’t offer my student constructive feedback on their ritual skills, I’m not doing them a service. Being nice isn’t really being nice.
Or, to make a more physical example, a healer sometimes has to set the bone to facilitate healing, and that bone-setting might hurt like hell.
However, over the long term, I’ve found that the people I work with respect me for my honesty. They know that I’m offering feedback from a place of love–I offer it because I respect these people, not to wound them. Instead of bitching about another leader behind their back, I try to offer them direct feedback.
I don’t get to do that with every person I work with because I don’t have an established relationship with agreements for feedback with everyone. However, when I do have that agreement, I work to honor that by being honest in a way that serves.
Trust and Communication
Over time, I work to build up trust with the people I work with, and similarly, I work to build up a space of trust where people can work together in a safe space and offer each other feedback. The key here is, over time, building a culture and community where we can trust and respect one another to offer the hard words, the honest words, from a place of love.
And, where we can still hold love for one another when one of us screws up.
We all have old wounds, holes in our ego, buttons, and sometimes they get pushed. I know I’ve snapped at someone for teasing me about something.
Why Personal Growth Work is Important
We’re human, and we screw up, and if we’re in a community and a culture where we’re agreeing together that each of us will do our own personal growth work, work to strengthen our own self esteem….and if we’re in a community where we’re agreeing to give each other the benefit of the doubt, and work together to communicate through and mediate issues, then we can build a culture of trust and true honesty over time.
This kind of community takes time to build. It won’t happen in a month, or a year, but it is possible.
Trust is definitely earned, and to get there, “You go first” doesn’t work. When I want a culture of trust, I begin by standing in my own integrity. I risk being honest from a place of love, being vulnerable, ruthlessly doing my personal work, even though those around me may not be making such a commitment, because one has to go first.
Will you take that step? Will you work to become more honest, from a place of deep compassion?