I can handle the truth.
May 29, 2008 1:16 PM   Subscribe

How can I deal with the dishonesty of the world?

I find myself lying to protect myself and often find people lying to me. For example, not telling a line manager of problems at my job because the director would just lash out at me. And an example of lies being told to me - people saying they are busy when they don't want to see me.

This situation is a major cause of my depression and anxiety. I hate living in a world where people are dishonest to each other - under the guise of manners or whatever - and I think that this dishonesty just increases the world's alienation.

I think this especially bothers me because I feel like I am acting all day - hiding my anxiety symptoms in order to function. Unfortunately my husband seems to want me to hide my symptoms too. Is there a way I can create a space for honesty in my life?

And all the people in my life seem to think I am doing so well. Sigh.

When I unburden the honest truth onto my therapist I just feel worse walking out of there because I know I am going back into a world full of lies.

Another thing making it worse is I seem to have absorbed my husbands bad habit of not sharing anything with friends. I've basically stopped making what I consider real friends - I just have social partners now.

Do people really have real friends who they are honest with anymore?
posted by By The Grace of God to Human Relations (33 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
You can do it by choosing to be as honest as you can be in the world you live in. Other people can take you or leave you that way, but I think you'll be surprised at the people who will appreciate your honesty.

It seems like at the root of all of this is a dissatisfaction with these different areas. No one wants to work somewhere their concerns aren't taken seriously -- where you are afraid to bring up the problems at your job. And that just makes your work stress greater.

As far as your husband and your friends? I think both of you could benefit from counseling to learn to communicate with each other. Your husband and your relationship should be your safe place, a place where you aren't afraid of rejection. Learning to communicate honestly with each other can help this, and that can help you deal with the greater world. Real friends won't leave you over honesty or even minor social gaffes. Maybe being more honest with the "social partners" you've created will deepen your friendships, or maybe it will break off these shallow bonds you've created. Either way, I can't help but think it will help.

Have you heard of Radical Honesty? You don't have to go the whole hog all at once, but some of his techniques can be helpful.

(I say all this as a very honest person who has a pact with her partner to always tell the whole truth, and as someone with friends who love her despite her propensity for telling the truth about everything including haircuts. It's possible!)
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:28 PM on May 29, 2008

I have found life is much less stressful if you start with the important step of being honest with others yourself. (Note you should still be tactful.) That's really all you can control.
posted by Nattie at 1:38 PM on May 29, 2008

Do you really want people to tell you that they don't want to see you, or that they're tired of your complaints about your anxiety and depression, or that they don't like your haircut? Would that really make your world a better place?

On the other hand, it good to have at least one friend who will be honest with you, when you ask them for honesty.
posted by amro at 1:49 PM on May 29, 2008

Think about the repercussion of being honest in your work-place or with your friends at all times. Now think about whether you are ready to deal with them. You may feel that initially you may have some backslash that will eventually subside and if this is the case why not do it? But if the outcome of being honest of the time is not a desired one and will not improve your situation I suggest that you really think about the following:

Why do you think is soo bad to lie?

Is it a religious thing? Were you lied to and really hurt cause of it? or is it just something that makes you feel uncomfortable?

I used to think just like you then I realized that the phrase actually makes perfect sense:

"Nothing is good or bad, is just what you make of it"

This is more of a philosophical discussion but once I understood that there are some things that may appear bad (due to social conditioning, not that they are actually bad according to the phrase above) I was free to pick and choose my beliefs about whats right or wrong as long as it didnt hurt anyone else.......

in short: Once you know why you think lying is bad you have to choose whether you want to reprogram yourself not to care about it or whether you think living a life of absolute truth is worth what you think will be the apparent relief of your soul.
posted by The1andonly at 1:52 PM on May 29, 2008

if you feel worse after talking to your therapist, you might need a new therapist. not that they're supposed to make you feel hunky-dory all the time, but clearly this one is not helping you deal with your problem--a therapist is not just a shoulder to cry on.

you're right to be upset by lying, but is it really a world full of lies? are you really perceiving that much dishonesty? or are you being dishonest with yourself? maybe you are making some assumptions based on what you feel rather than what you know, or projecting your own dishonesty on others.

or maybe not. maybe you really are surrounded by rampant corruption, and that would really suck. actually, whether you really are dealing with rampant corrpution or just perceived corruption, it sucks. you're clearly suffering. perhaps an anti-anxiety medication would help.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:58 PM on May 29, 2008

Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke. Or be truthful.

Quite honestly, there are any number of topics besides honesty that, if we examined them beyond a superficial gloss, would make us go mad at the injustice. Don't take it personally; whether it be upbringing or avarice or intelligence or malice, people are gonna fuck you. Without being a pushover - stand up to the bullshit that matters, don't call 'em on piddly stuff like whether the 68 or 69 impala had round inner-door logos - you gotta just keep on keepin' on in a way that you can live with. An' it harm none, do what you wilt.
posted by notsnot at 2:02 PM on May 29, 2008

When I unburden the honest truth onto my therapist I just feel worse walking out of there because I know I am going back into a world full of lies.

So you've found a small corner of the world where you can be yourself and speak your mind-- well done! It's too bad that it makes you all the more aware of how the rest of your "life" doesn't measure up.

You really have to start breaking ground on a new way of living. Nobody is going to do that for you, and if you don't do it for yourself now, you'll wind up doing it later anyway-- when you totally crack, in which case you won't have nearly the presence of mind to preside over those changes as you'll need.

We're not talking about the "radical honesty" that people employ as an excuse to be an asshole. We're talking about your identity, the membrane through which your insides encounter the outside world, and it's very important that you start believing that what you think and feel is important.

If this causes problems in your marriage, well cross that bridge when you come to it. And yes, maybe that will mean eventually burning it... but maybe not. Right now you apparently don't think you're worth putting that to the test over. Keep in mind that though things may grow difficult, as your confidence grows you will have less and less difficulty summoning the strength to endure.

Same with your friends. I can relate, I hate to hurt people's feelings or let them down, even if I just met them. But I've accepted that my primary responsibility is to myself, and that I have not signed a "friendship contract" promising to remain any one way for the rest of my life. People change and ebb in and out of each other's lives, it actually takes more time and effort to maintain status quo than it does to accept the natural cycles of these things.

I think you need a break from some of these people, no matter what. You are aspiring to the barest modicum of personal freedom, and it's hard to strike your own bargain with the world when you have a bunch of people looking over your shoulder. After a while you'll hear your own voice in your mind all the time, instead of everyone else's.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 2:10 PM on May 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

Have you ever read "The Stone Diaries" by Carol Shields? It is a portrait of a woman's life told through the eyes of various people that make up her world. The portrait is fragmented and contradictory, and it is a wonderful example of how the truth can be relative, contextual, and fluid. Do any of us know what objective truth is?

This book helped me immensely with accepting what you're struggling with. We sometimes have to accept people and situations as they are, and the extent to which they are capable of giving. I don't think one can be honest with everyone all the time, and in all situations, because what other people (not to mention ourselves) can handle.

You can be this kind of truthful with one person, and find sharing another kind of truth rewarding with another person, and so on. We can always be authentically ourselves, while respecting the boundaries inherent in the capabilities others have of soaking up truth.

In my experience, and I am on the path with you, not there yet, people respond more authentically to me the more I love myself and give myself the freedom to enjoy who I am. (And by this I'm referring to baby steps I've made...) In addition to this aspect, there are people who enjoy being real. Have you tried a meditation group, yoga group, or group aligned with your faith or interests?

Good luck.
posted by frumious bandersnatch at 2:11 PM on May 29, 2008

Imagine that ten years ago you made a big mistake in the eyes of everyone. They judged you harshly, and you also judged yourself that way. But just because you made that mistake, does that mean you should suffer the rest of your life? That isn't fair. Your reaction is that you live with shame and guilt, low self-esteem. Your reaction is that you feel worthless and you don't even know why.

Take a step back, and you will find out why. It's because you are still taking the same action, and that leads to the same reaction. You think you are still suffering for what happened ten years ago, but that isn't true. The truth is you are suffering for what happened a minute ago. Your excuse is you made a terrible mistake ten years ago. The truth is you judged yourself just a minute ago.

The only way to change your life is to change the choices, to change the actions. If there is something in your life that you don't like, first you have to be aware that it is the result of something that you do. It's the result of a choice you made. You may not be able to control what is going to happen around you, but you can certainly control your own reactions. The way you react is the clue to serenity.

It begins with being impeccable with your own word. Like everything, it takes time, but if your social partners, your work partners, your life partners see that you are always true to yourself and doing your best, they will gradually begin giving you that one thing that will make you feel like you belong. Respect.
posted by netbros at 2:16 PM on May 29, 2008 [8 favorites]

There is no easy answer to your questions, but they are worth asking.

Perhaps the first task is to delineate between types of dishonesty:

a) trivial dishonesty that infects certain everyday social dynamics and relations
b) more serious dishonesty between friends or partners that corrupts relationships
c) the dishonesty of politics, world affairs, advertising and the mass media
d) honesty and dishonesty with oneself

The first is the psychology of everyday life, particularly at work, but one must be careful here to see that everyday life is neither totally dishonest and corrupted nor totally honest and forthcoming: it tends rather to be somewhere inbetween.

The second is the private psychology of personal relationships with others. Here there is a great deal of variation. In a marriage, for instance, dishonesty about things such as extramarital affairs can prove totally poisonous. It is important to remember here that context is everything.

The third is probably what brings me down the most, b/c I'm convinced we are living through probably among the most intensly dishonest political reign in modern history, and that we have a mass media to make Orwell blush. This si the psychology of the status quo, and it is truly suffocating at times.

The fourth is the most problemmatic of all. Humans are great self-deceivers: in both good and bad ways. There is too much to write about this here: it's the vast resevoir of the human psyche.

I think the best one can hope for is to try to be more honest in one's life, but not to expect dishonesty to vanish completely.

thanks for the post.
posted by ornate insect at 2:21 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

we had a thread about that book fiercecupcake linked. (this was my response)

Basically I think you're thinking too much about lying and not enough about what you actually want from the relationship. If someone isn't direct with you about something, don't take that as an automatic wall between you. Perhaps they even perceive it as evidence of a deeper relationship where you understand perfectly well what is going on, that they don't want to see you right now, but do like you in general and so don't want to hurt you. Or perhaps they just think it's a social shortcut, but if this bothers you, you should be the one to make it clear, because it is a common socially accepted manner of behaving. In a sense you could think of wearing clothes as "lying" - baring all isn't automatically a better world.

But if you want to be open about what you're dealing with, then you basically can just do it. I'm the kind of person who basically lets loose and tells people what's going on. I have some relatives who are very private, not necessarily dishonest, but by your definition, perhaps - they hide problems until they reach a tipping point (and presumably problems which never reach that point I just never know about). I have other relatives who show all as it is happening. I'm of the latter sort, and it has pluses and minuses, but basically I am who I am, so my friends (and random people on the internet) know how I feel about things I'm going through. I wouldn't classify this as honest vs. dishonest so much as public vs private, though. If your husband is more private than you, and embarrassed by your wanting to share things he would rather not hear about, that is an issue you'll have to deal with and probably compromise over to some extent. Neither of you is right or wrong, really.
posted by mdn at 2:31 PM on May 29, 2008

You seem very depressed. You are seeing a therapist. Are you taking anti-depressant medication? Getting a mood lift might make a big difference.
posted by Carol Anne at 2:33 PM on May 29, 2008

To come at your question from a slightly different angle: I think it's important to tone down the black-and-white thinking that seem to be implicit in your question. "THE dishonesty in THE world" is an absolutist statement; it implies that deception is , factually, the natural state for all people and things in existence. But not only is that not true (not everyone lies to you or demands that you lie), it's a sentiment that may make you feel quite negative, hopeless, or overwhelmed.

Work on being less black-and-white in your language. Bringing it down a few notches -- for example, "how do I deal with dishonesty I encounter at work, and how I can I communicate more authentically with my husband?" -- is a more realistic assessment of the situation, which will allow you to find practical strategies and solutions (some of which others have already suggested very well). Don't set yourself up for failure by trying to take on the whole world. Just take on what you can actually control.

Good luck. Learning to tone down my own habitual, absolutist language was a major help in breaking through my own long-term depression and anxiety, so perhaps it will help for you, too.
posted by scody at 2:35 PM on May 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

To clarify, I do mean my world - my daily experiences. I'd be grateful for answers to your toned down version of my question, too.

I guess I do think that there is a system of lying in the world in general, though. Look at various situations in AskMe - for example today's question about the guy leaving the post with the combative woman at the overseas NGO. Many people tell him to leave the matter of telling the woman she's hard to work with with the NGO honchos, but few people consider the consequences that woman suffers by the fact nobody's telling her she has a problem. The OP in that thread really wants to step up and say something to the lady, and the posters dissuade him. why? Cuz it's easier, smoother, simpler. And this happens all the time.

I really wish that our society put an imperative on honesty in these situations. I really do think it's usually called for, except for in the case where someone could face harm if they were honest.
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:46 PM on May 29, 2008

There's the world. World is comprised of cells called souls. Every human possess one. Every soul has free will to choose between right and wrong. Honest dishonest. When free will is exercised by a person/soul/cell for honesty - the world is filled with more light. When the opposite is chosen it's filled with darkness. There's nothing anyone can do *about what
s pot there* without examining the self and its choices. By self choosing honesty over dishonesty - the word with then reflect that back. There's no them - it's always us. That's the nuts and bolts of it all.
posted by watercarrier at 2:59 PM on May 29, 2008

Well, to be sure, the person leaving the NGO was not asked by the combative person why they were leaving. And if you read the question again you might see that there is some history of dealing with the problem.

Are you sure you aren't looking for dishonesty where there isn't any, or that maybe you're hewing to a dictionary definition of honesty that does not exist in real life? Are you lying when you say you know that people "don't want to see" you? Is this situation a cause of your anxiety and depression or is it a symptom of it? If it's a symptom does that mean you just lied and you have to find and apologize to every person who has read your question so far? I'm not judging you, I'm just trying to illustrate the ridiculous rabbit holes that this logic can generate so that you might see a way to draw the line somewhere.

That said, I did go through a period where lies seriously bothered me about 15 years ago. I grew out of it and started to recognize the value of lies in society. Honesty is overrated; I'd rather be happy even if that makes me 4% stupider.
posted by rhizome at 3:04 PM on May 29, 2008

When free will is exercised by a person/soul/cell for honesty - the world is filled with more light.

It is seriously not anywhere near this simple. You may think you're being noble to tell some woman she's hard to work with, but it may turn out that she knew she wasn't getting along with people, that you were the one misperceiving who was getting along with whom, that when you state it aloud it comes off as far more bitter and resentful than you had intended or imagined it would when you thought it out in your mind, that she was hard to work with because of other factors you didn't take into account, or any number of other things.

This is not to say it's never right to tell someone what you really think, but just that it's not always an act of producing "light" or anything. It's just a way for you to bare your emotional experience to other people. Which is fine; it'll make some people like you more and some people like you less, and overall is a perfectly reasonable way to live. So go for it. But forgive other people for being less blunt or direct. It can take a lot of emotional energy if you're really invested, to share this much, and for some people, they save that for specific relationships, and handle public relationships a little bit according to roles or manners.
posted by mdn at 3:14 PM on May 29, 2008

Scody has it. I would only add that you might have a discussion with your therapist about similar tactics.
posted by sondrialiac at 3:24 PM on May 29, 2008

few people consider the consequences that woman suffers by the fact nobody's telling her she has a problem.

You don't know this, because you're not a mind reader. Not everyone types everything they think, either.

I really do think it's usually called for, except for in the case where someone could face harm if they were honest.

This is a personal choice, so perhaps you should tell others you want them to be honest with you unless they are going to be physically harmed by being honest.

I don't want people to be honest with me all the time. I live in a big city, if I am wearing an ugly outfit I don't want people to come up to me and say "hey, ugly outfit!" And yet, that's the kind of proactive burden you want to place on the world in the name of honesty. They can't just avoid the subject or not say anything, after all, that would be dishonest by your definition. Ick.

If your partner wants you to be dishonest about your anxiety, and you have to hide your anxiety in order to function, it is probably because your anxiety and depression are not under control. Your partner is probably being significantly affected and needs time and space away from your anxiety. He might not be able to deal with your anxiety all the time. It sucks that he can't be as supportive as you would like him to be, but he has the right to protect his mental health.

I think the problem is not you or your partner, or the dishonesty in the world; rather it is your undertreated mental illness.
posted by sondrialiac at 3:37 PM on May 29, 2008

This situation is a major cause of my depression and anxiety. I hate living in a world where people are dishonest to each other - under the guise of manners or whatever - and I think that this dishonesty just increases the world's alienation.

A big source of dishonesty is the power that people have over each other. If nobody had power over anyone else, a lot of dishonesty would disappear. But in a world where people wield their power over each other in petty, unpredictable, and often malicious ways, it is hard to avoid being dishonest.

Another source of dishonesty is that people don't respect other people enough to tell them the truth. Weak, cowardly people often tell lies because they assume that the other person won't be mature and understanding about the truth. These weak, cowardly people, because they assume the worst about other people, can't bring themselves to tell the truth. This is why, when someone actually musters the courage to tell a difficult truth, I have great respect for them.

As much as I admire a virtuous, Kantian approach to truth-telling, I am really opposed to the Radical Honesty school of thought. I've read parts of that book, and it is just absurd. The author's basic philosophy seems to be that you should be honest in every way, without exception. "What do you think of my new dress," a coworker asks. "I think it's hideous, and makes you look like a cow," the Radical Honesty philosophy would require you to answer.
posted by jayder at 3:47 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Happiness Is An Inside Job".

The Four Agreements -
Don Miguel Ruiz's code for life

Be impeccable with your word - Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Don’t take anything personally - Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

Don’t make assumptions - Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always do your best - Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
posted by jara1953 at 3:53 PM on May 29, 2008 [6 favorites]

Yes, to chime in further, there really is a great deal of difference between the daily white lies and omissions of social interaction and having significant untruths between individuals in relationships. (This is leaving aside the lies of politics, etc.) Obsessing over the former will not really improve the latter.

If your husband doesn't want you to express how you're feeling, you need to communicate with him to find out what his reluctance is about. (And this can be genuinely challenging, if he's not used to speaking about how he feels and thinking about why he's feeling it. Is he willing to see a counselor with you?) It might be coming from his fear that you're unhappy with him and want to end the relationship. It might be coming from a fundamental disinterest in your emotional well-being. It might very well be something else entirely.

No one can second-guess why your husband wants you not to share your feelings with him, but I think what a number us are getting at is that chalking it up to being part and parcel of the lack of honesty in the world actually diverts you from finding a practical approach. Only when you can start to see where your husband is coming from -- that is, if he's afraid of losing you vs. just doesn't actually care about your feelings, for example -- can you start to figure out what your realistic, healthy options are.

Finally, if you're a fan of poetry, let me suggest this by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It's always been a good touchstone for me when I find myself overthinking and overwhelmed by the aggravations and injustices of the world -- a reminder, as Hopkins says, to "leave comfort root-room." It's a good gift to yourself.
posted by scody at 4:13 PM on May 29, 2008

Recently I heard a quote from I have no idea who:

Life is 1/3 sadness, 1/3 gladness, and 1/3 you decide.
posted by snowjoe at 5:45 PM on May 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

If you don't want others lying to you, you shouldn't lie to them. It's the basic formula of what goes around comes around. But, in certain situations you have to "fake it till you make it!". That sucks and believe me I know. The communication problems you are having with your husband don't make your life easier, and if you don't try to communicate with him about how your feeling then who are you supposed to communicate with? He is supposed to be your best friend after all. Therapy is great and I suggest to keep it up. The thing with therapy is that you have to remember that what ever your problem is will not go away in one session and sometimes feeling worse after you leave isn't necessarily a bad thing, it could be a great thing. Why? Because you are allowing the toxins and negativity to leave your body and that takes time. Have your therapist help you come up with a plan to help you communicate with the husband in a way that won't invade his space and make him feel like he is the problem. What you need to do is take it slow, one moment at a time, one breath at a time. Having faith/friendship in God helps too! I'm not sure if I was any help but, Good luck!
posted by eve28 at 6:56 PM on May 29, 2008

I don't think you need a new code to live by, or to embrace radical honesty. I think you need to treat your anxiety and depression by any means that work for you (and keep trying treatments until you find one that works). Once those issues start to feel more under control, you can fix your job and relationship and start building some deeper friendships.

I'm saying this because I recognize something very familiar in your post - something I've seen in myself and several people I'm close to who deal with clinical depression and anxiety.

Yes, many relationships are as you describe, and it does kind of suck, but although it's a real issue, it is clearly affecting you much more than it affects most people - I think this is a major symptom of depression. At least some depression is a real chemical imbalance that alters the way we see things, and makes issues other people can shrug off hard to deal with - this is why many people need drugs, and not just a talking based therapy. I, for example, am totally correct that we're all going to die (possibly horribly, possibly soon) but unlike for most people, that thought consumes a lot of my mental energy and affects my ability to live my life. It comes down as a barrier between me and other people and makes me feel distanced - things don't feel real. But when my depression is under control, the death thoughts retreat and don't consume me, although death is obviously just as certain. What you write about honesty seems very, very similar to me.

I certainly don't mean that it's all in your head, or things will be fine if you just treat your depression, but I think your perspective will change, and I think you will be better able to fix what you can.

I hope this isn't too blunt, but please consider finding a more effective depression/anxiety treatment before you approach this as just a philosophical issue, or an insurmountable problem with the world.
posted by crabintheocean at 1:28 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is a toughie.

Society tells you that honesty is a virtue, and at the same time, encourages politeness (which necessitates a certain number of white lies.) All of us, at one time or another, end up grappling with this issue.

You seem to have absorbed these conflicting viewpoints about honesty to the point where you are allowing it to affect you emotionally.

Maybe it'll help to see honesty with others simply as a tool, instead of something that has intrinsic value. Cause personally, I don't know ANYTHING that is intrinsically good, other than, possibly, "goodness" itself.

Sometimes direct honesty can be used for the greater good, but sometimes there will be better ways to achieve that good.

It's up to us to learn to when its applicable, and when it isn't.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 1:44 AM on May 30, 2008

And I gotta agree with crabintheocean.

The gist of your post makes it seem like "honesty" really isn't the issue at all, but the fact you lack the energy to deal with something that is largely, a philosophical problem.

I remember when I was depressed/anxious, I found myself attributing my negative feelings to a variety of outward, existential causes. And you know, I still have the same philosophic problems, but because I have more energy now and am no longer depressed, they don't "feel" like problems anymore.

Hope my words didn't offend in anyway. I wish you the best and hope you feel better soon.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 1:53 AM on May 30, 2008

I can't believe I'm saying this but I'm remembering something I saw on that teen drama show Felicity.

Her mentor figure told her that as you get older you learn that some things are more important than honesty. Felicity asks what? Mentor says kindness.

The truth is that everyone lies, even you. We lie to deal with the discrepancy between what we have and what we want. We lie to avoid awkward situations. We lie to not hurt people's feelings. Sometimes we lie to do the right thing.

One example I remember from a political ethics course was about former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard. An ice storm had left a large part of Quebec without power, and water supplies were dwindling. When asked by the press if there was a water shortage he said no, even though there was. This was so that people didn't start panicking and hoarding water and force an early crisis.

I'm not an expert on that moment in history, but I can see how in that case it might have been the right thing to lie.

We hold people we love to different standards, and will hopefully come to an arrangement/understanding of what kind of lies are OK and what is not. When is it OK to withhold information, when is not.

It's a complex issue. But my point is, EVERYONE lies. about something. Think about the last lie you told and why you told it. Do you wish you had told the truth?
posted by Flying Squirrel at 6:58 AM on May 30, 2008

That said, I did go through a period where lies seriously bothered me about 15 years ago. I grew out of it and started to recognize the value of lies in society. Honesty is overrated; I'd rather be happy even if that makes me 4% stupider.

This bears repeating. From someone with an overformed justice (and outrage) gland, it took me years to realize the values of "social" lying - and even of "putting on appearances" or a facade - even if only as a matter of comfort and socialness.

Truth isn't the be-all-end-all to happiness, comfort or well being. Not by a long shot, but it's part of it. I'm really and truly terrible at social lying and social graces in general, but I try to keep this well-known Kurt Vonnegut quote as a general baseline:

"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."

Under that axiom, neither telling the truth nor lying are inherently good, or bad. It's entirely situational, and the variable is kindness. How, when and where to apply it is tricky for some, particularly if you're in the midst of suffering, but if you can manage to step back and ask if your motivations and interactions are from a place anger or confrontation, or if they're coming from a place of kindness - and apply that then things tend to go much smoother.

As for how other people treat you, you can't control that. You can choose to be dismayed by it or not. You can choose to be hurt by it or not - and if you can't avoid the immediate hurt, you can certainly choose how you react to it, and you can choose and control how long the pain will linger.

But for the forseeable future the safe bet is that people in general are going to continue to suck - either out of sheer meaness or ignorance, or because they are also suffering from their own problems.

And you may do well to remember that other people do have problems - even if those problems are merely ignorance, or a lack of introspection. The fact that you're even asking these questions and are concerned about them (and the fact that you're in therapy!) probably indicates that you're more emotionally and situationally aware than a vast majority of the people on this planet.

That's a sour salve for an sore wound, I know, but so it is. Most people don't ever find the courage to confront the issues you're confronting - if they ever become aware of them at all.

Do people really have real friends who they are honest with anymore?

Yes, they do. And I've personally counted you among them, perhaps as much as I can for someone I've only ever known from online. I suspect that trust would be much deeper if I'd met you or you were a neighbor or something. I know we haven't spoken much lately, but I still think of you fairly often, and wonder how you are.

So, yeah, it exists. I feel extremely fortunate and thankful to have about half a dozen friends that would pass the "photograph test" with me, IE, people I would trust with owning a compromising photograph of myself. Perhaps I'm too trusting, but I doubt it. I'm pretty cautious and reserved - if not outright paranoid.

Nonetheless I was feeling pretty alone until I recently read a survey revealed that on average people had 2 people or less in their lives that they would trust with such a photograph, and most had none.

Meanwhile, it's still not all roses here. Making and keeping friends is hard. Meeting and interacting with new people, or people that I'm not fond of is even harder. Intimacy (of all sorts) is hard, stressful stuff. It can be threatening and risky. It can be an emotional rollercoaster.

And as Hermitosis so aptly says, there's no such thing as a "friendship contract". There's no such a thing even in intimate partnerships. There's also no such thing as a "friendship event horizon" where - once you're past it - all barriers to intimacy or trust fall away and everything is just hunky-dory no matter what happens and radical honesty is the only rule of the game. It just doesn't work like that. It's never black and white. There are only gradients. Even in the healthiest, most open and honest relationships people have fears, needs and expectations - and that goes both ways, and sometimes they can be unreasonable or outright unhealthy.

people saying they are busy when they don't want to see me

In my personal experience - as someone known to be strident, annoying and socially inept - I've learned that when people tell me that lie it's because they don't like the reaction they get from me when they tell me the truth. Just like the way you find yourself lying to your director to avoid their reaction. People were turned off by how I perceived their business or lack of attention as rejection and how I responded with outright anger or even merely sadness.

I've learned that not only is it not my place to burden anyone with these kind of unwarranted and unhealthy negative reactions - but that it's my choice to react this way. As indicated upthread, true happiness and self-worth can only come from within. My learning to curtail these negative reactions to requests for attention isn't even remotely the same thing as lying to myself or anyone at all, but rather an inherent modification of how I perceive myself and the people around me.

And to be clear, I still struggle. I probably always will. And even if I managed to reach some Zen-Buddhist state of perfect enlightenment and balance, well, the rest of the world still sucks and there's nothing much I can do about that except what I can control and influence in my own life.
posted by loquacious at 7:46 AM on May 30, 2008 [6 favorites]

How can I deal with the dishonesty of the world?

Lower your standards.

Accept the limitations of your fellow human beings.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:07 AM on May 30, 2008

There's the letter of the law, and then there's the spirit of the law. Many people are telling and living the truth as fully as they can, but in a rather stylized fashion that also speaks to the reality of who they are and where they came from. A fluency in this form of expression is not denigrating your ethical practices.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:04 AM on May 30, 2008

In general, people don't love or hate something about others unless they love or hate the same thing within themselves. Being honest is risky, and as long as you still need others (your manager for your salary, your coworkers to get the job done, your husband for comfort), you will constantly weighing those risks against your instinct. That said, there is a way to manage those risks, you just need to figure out how. But, I'm not going to tell you how just yet. Your post read like a spoil child throwing a tantrum. I want world honesty now! But I'm depressed because everyone lies, so everyone should change! Are you waiting for a magic wand to force everyone else to communicate with you the way you want without any effort on your own? Be realistic! You won't get anywhere with being depressed, anxious, complaining, wishing or praying. March out there and fight for your ideals, damn it! Pick small fights first, then do battles. If you think the previous AskMefi responses are full of sh#!, why didn't you write and tell them so? If you don't defend your vision, I don't respect it; and far is the day that I'll defend it for you. Seem like you can only be honest with your employee, who you pay to agree with you. You will run out of money long before you convert the world that way.
The first step of fixing any problem is defining the problem. If your problem is the world, you aught to be more specific. Assess the problem, define your area of responsibility, set up a plan and criteria of success, then act to continuously improve the situation. Find resources to sustain you on your quest, but above all, keep on fighting. Perhaps, when you die, you will have fewer regrets. Go find and listen to Sinatra's My-Way.
posted by curiousZ at 12:32 PM on May 30, 2008

I've found myself thinking similar things, and in my case, it was almost always due to a situation in which I felt out of control. I was anxious and depressed, and my perception of the world not only reflected my mood, but allowed me to rationalize my unhappiness as somehow "not my fault."

It's true, there is a lot of dishonesty in the world, but there is also a lot of truth to be found when you're ready to look at it. One of the most important truths is that you cannot control the world. You can't make it any more honest. What you DO have control over is yourself and your immediate surroundings. Is there something going on that you don't want to face? Is this causing you to react in full victim mode and blame the world? Is it better to think the world is utter shit than to face what's wrong in your life? Before you disregard what I am saying, please know that this is exactly what I ask myself when I'm feeling like you do.

So, looking at your post - you have depression and anxiety, your therapist isn't making you feel any better, your husband doesn't want to deal with it, and your friends are making excuses to not hang out with you. This completely sucks - but it doesn't mean the world is terrible and everyone in it is dishonest, it means that you are in a tough situation. Break the situation down into bite-sized pieces, deal with what you can, when you can, and let the world do what it's going to do anyway.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:58 PM on May 30, 2008

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