The Honesty Dilemma

Sometimes people tell me things.  Things they shouldn’t.  And in places they shouldn’t.

Take, for example, Frosted Tips.  Frosted Tips was a guy whose name I never properly learned and, frankly, am happy I didn’t.  I was standing at a urinal, which I believe was how Hemingway started his first draft of The Sun Also Rises.  I was in a bar in San Francisco and peeing, in quite a carefree manner.  I feel safe in saying that this was a positively jaunty urination.

In came Frosted Tips.  He stood at the urinal next to me.  I say “stood” when really it was more of a drunken wobble.  This was all fine with me.  But then Frosted Tips decided this urinal looked remarkably like a confessional.  Which was when he told me something he shouldn’t have.

He said: “That girl I’m with is not my wife.”

I have no idea what he meant by that, but I assume that the girl he was with was not his wife, who probably wouldn’t have enjoyed seeing such him with her.

Honesty is a funny thing.  And lately I’ve struggled with it a great deal.  I don’t mean that I’ve been dishonest.  At least I don’t think I’ve been.  When asked a direct question, I believe in the best policy and tell the truth (except for this one time, which I’ll get to in a moment).  But lately it’s just been on my mind as to what it means to be truly honest.

Take, for example, this blog.  In my last post, I mentioned that I work at a school but was hesitant to reveal much beyond that.  Obviously, there are logical reasons as to why I don’t want to talk about where I work.  Teachers are under fire lately and I don’t want to take the risk.  I would never blog about my students anyway, because it’s unethical, but I don’t even want to come close to towing that line.  But, I digress: teachers walk weird line when it comes to honesty.  At my school, we’ve been encouraged to form bonds with our kids.  This means talking to them about their day, helping them when they need it, answering questions, giving advice, etc.  The “answering questions” is where I always get a little iffy.  See, when I first started this job I made a point to reveal very little about myself, including my age.  I didn’t want them to know how young I was out of fear that it would lead to disrespect in the classroom, which was already a big enough issue.  So I evaded their questions.  At one point, I was asked if I had a girlfriend and my brain did some sort of asinine logic cartwheel and I told the following lies:

1.  Yes, I have a girlfriend.

2.  Her name is Christina (after the secretary from Mad Men, played by Christina Hendricks).

3.  She works as a secretary (see previous note) at a company that makes video games.

There’s really no explaining why I did this.  It just came to me.  I fabricated three completely superfluous lies for no reason other than saying, “No, I’m single” sounded a little embarrassing.  The story gets even weirder when while talking to an entirely separate group of students, I said that Christina and I had broken up.  Yes, I invented a fake girlfriend and then broke up with her.  And, to top off the weird cake with a bizarre cherry, included the detail that the break-up was mutual.

Since “The Christina Incident” I’ve made a point to be more open with my students.  I tell them things about my personal life (including my age) and always keep it school appropriate.  Honestly, I feel that it has strengthened me as a teacher and allowed me to feel more comfortable in front of oft-judgmental teenagers.  Which is great, but once you start to pull on the “are you an honest person” loose thread of your persona sweater, it leads you down not-entirely comfortable path.

For example: the Frost Tips story?  Yeah, that never happened.  Ever.

I tell that story to people to illustrate an actual truth: people tell me stuff at weird times.  My bar stories are filled with people admitting random things, sometimes about their sex lives, sometimes about their infidelities.  But the specific details of Frosted Tips never actually occurred.

Stephen King once said: “Fiction is the truth inside the lie.”  So, if the Frosted Tips story allows people to see that, yeah, I know a lot of random secrets about random people, then I tell it.  But it didn’t actually happen.  Now, I suppose I could tell an actual story that actually happened, but, in a way, I couldn’t.  Because most of the stuff I know, I really shouldn’t know and usually people tell me stuff because they trust me.  And I value that trust each and every time they want to give it.

So then why is it so hard to return that trust?  I’ve always adopted the journalists position of: I ask the questions, not answer them.  This is sort of a great way to go through life if you’re (a) terrified if genuine human emotion and (b) selfish.

That’s another big part of feeling like you’re not honest enough: you constantly feel like you’re on the outside looking in, in a way.  There’s a certain amount of hesitation that accompanies human interaction, because people want to connect with other people. For some reason, that really scares me.  Chances are, if I’ve told you a secret, it’s a decision I over-thought for a few days beforehand.

Honesty is complicated.  Like, right now, as I type this, I feel like I’m being far too honest.  Who cares about some Guy On The Internet’s thoughts about honesty?  Shouldn’t I just make some Twilight jokes, post a picture of a cute cat, and call it a night?  I mean, isn’t that the point of facebook and twitter?  The sad fact is is that we all get annoyed when the girl from the third floor dorm you briefly knew for two weeks in college posts about how traffic is really bad or she failed at gardening or some such.  Because no one wants to know about your pity party.  Likewise, though no one really likes the “Everything is great all the time, bt-dubs I’m engaged again” person either.  Both of these people are simply being honest and both of these annoy me equally.  This could mean that I’m judgmental.

Or I’m just tired.

Thanks for reading.  I promise a cute cat picture in the next one.  Or at least a coherent final thought.

Have a nice evening, reader.

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One thought on “The Honesty Dilemma

  1. rory, you’ll always be my most reliable narrator (paws at you flirtatiously).

    jesus man, if people actually judged me for conforming my anecdotes to soothing, vaguely archetypal narratives, i’d never have anything to say. which reminds me of that one time i lost my virginity on prom night…

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