Sunday, 4 December 2022

Let's be Honest... (The Simple Core Principle that Could Save Your Life)


I have a love-hate relationship with the dedications I write for my novels.

Not surprising, as I have a love-hate relationship with every other thing I write, as well.

Come to think of it, love-hate might define a lot of my relationships. I may need counseling.

     As with every other page in the book, ultimately, I want the dedications to be at least mildly entertaining, but I also want them to be real; not just an afterthought, hastily tacked on. There is no end to the people I owe some acknowledgment, and when I start writing, I already know who I want to mention in the dedication. But I can write an entire novel, thinking about the dedication off and on for months and, in the end, still not have a clear idea of what I want to say.

     This was especially true in 2019, when I dedicated my fifth book, "Wakeless," to my father. 

     My dad is not a great communicator. Age has softened him, but for the majority of my life, he was the classic stoic and aloof breadwinner, and benevolent dictator. He said little, and we liked it that way because when he was forced to have a "heart-to-heart," it was usually because of something we'd done and it came with consequences. He never hit or spanked us, but we were raised in the era of "wait until your father gets home!" and so, always feared he would, despite years of evidence to the contrary.

    After a year and a half of thought, here's the dedication that I came up with:

For my father,
Morris M. W. Dean,
for always having our backs.
You’ve taught me more than I’m willing to admit.
[fake-punch to the shoulder followed by awkward silence.]

     My mother did the vast majority of the actual raising and the passing on of life skills and wisdom. As a result, my siblings and I all largely live by her example and advice and not his. So, I think this dedication surprised, confused, and possibly offended her, and she immediately called me out on the obvious thing I had sidestepped in the dedication, namely, what had he taught me.

     I, myself, had only had the vague sense that he had imparted information of value, cleverly sidestepping it in my own mind, and couldn't immediately give her a clear answer. But it started me thinking more seriously about that. And then it came to me...

     In what has to be one of Life's most clear examples of unfairness, I realized that though my mother had imparted tomes of wisdom, my father had inadvertently given me the foundation of my entire philosophy. And it all started because I was a very adept communicator and, when I was a teen, often (possibly always) lied or spun the truth to get out of sticky situations. My father had good instincts and though he was unable to win a war of words, he knew when I was guilty and though he might be forced to concede, he did so with the parting phrase that eventually became my core value: 

"You might be able to fool me, but at least be honest with yourself."

     For years, I chalked up the win and smirked (inwardly—OMG! Only inwardly—I'm no hero!), discarding the adage which I considered to be no more than a trite platitude.

     I can't say exactly what made me remember and rethink it all. I know I had some minor career failures that bothered me, and I recall once laughing at the foolishness of a character in a comdey series and then suddenly realizing the guy was a lot like me. Oh, and there was this divorce that happened. 

     I was in my late twenties, and as has happened many times in my life, all the algorithms I'd conjured to make life run in my favor suddenly failed and I had to regroup and rethink. That comedy character's lack of self-awareness really bothered me and, though it was the least of all indicators, may well have been the one I couldn't drive out of my head and which brought home the truth in my father's words. (Thank you, Ricky Gervais)

     At the time, being honest with myself seemed a small and simple step to take and I adopted it in the absolute way I do when I feel something to be a core truth. What I didn't realize (possibly until the moment my mother asked me) was that personal internal honesty is a step toward self-awareness and has a cascading positive effect on your life. 


As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself. Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility. Nelson Mandela

Am I self-aware?

We're all oblivious, to some degree. Self-awareness is a spectrum, ranging from "Childlike Obliviousness" to "God-like-Awareness." Whether your level will negatively impact your life depends on where you fall in relation to those around you, but you are probably out of step and not being honest enough with yourself if some of the following apply...

• When describing you, people often use words like: negative, controlling, highly critical, or judgemental. 
• You believe that when others make mistakes, they offer only excuses, but when you make a mistake, there must be good reasons.
• When people argue with you, you find that you're always way ahead of them and have thought of everything they might say before they say it. (This leads to a habit of interrupting which feeds your denial by not allowing others to effectively argue their points.) 
• You have a habit of interrupting. (You may notice that people rush their words and minimize their sentences when talking to you because they know you won't give them long to speak.)
• You rarely feel the need to apologize. 
• You are a fan of the "silent treatment." 
• You do not welcome feedback on your failures. (You don't feel that you need it because there were reasons.)
• Your interactions with others tend to end in drama.
• You enjoy being an authority and find it hard to say "I don't know."
• It is almost impossible to change your mind.
• You have an obsessive need to stay busy and distracted.
• You hold grudges and overthink the past.
• You prefer not to talk about your feelings.
• Your view of the future is negative and a constant source of worry.

Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people. Spencer Johnson


Spin-off Benefits of Being Honest with Yourself:

Take Responsibility, Embrace Failure:
     Possibly the very largest effect is that it will force you to take responsibility for your actions and confront your failures. Denial has to be the most popular way to avoid consequences, but you need them because they help make failure the best teacher. Truly, it's only failure if you don't learn from it. 

Owning Your Behavior:
     Self-honesty means that you are cognizant of your motivations. If you lie, cheat, or steal, you will have to do it willfully; it will be a conscious decision that will leave a negative impression on your self-image. When you do nasty things, you will no longer be able to fool yourself into thinking that you are a good guy. In order to maintain a positive self-image, your actions will have to come from the best of intentions. This is the path to ethics and integrity.

Greater Confidence and Empathy:
     There are spin-off benefits for your character. Engaging in nasty behavior makes you vulnerable to exposure. Knowing that you operate with honesty and only the best of intentions imparts confidence, which bolsters self-esteem. And, determining the best of intentions exercises your empathy. Confidence and empathy are strong and attractive character traits.

Better Decisions:
     Inner honesty forces you to thoroughly evaluate your thoughts and assumptions. And, if made with greater empathy, your decisions are more likely to be endorsed by those around you. So, your decisions will be more potent, generally leading to superior outcomes which garner more support.

Innoculate Against Isolation and Depression:
     There can be mortal danger in denial/lack of self-awareness. Continual self-improvement is necessary to keep pace with the development of those around you, but denial encourages stagnation.
The stronger the denial, the more self-centered the individual, and the more narcissistic their behavior. Overly narcissistic people cannot have real friends and, as they age, their stunted development becomes more apparent in contrast to those around them. This can lead to isolation, making a person especially vulnerable to depression.


     Holding your inner self to a higher standard of honesty is something you can try on your own. No one else needs to know.  The benefits will come, regardless.
     If you want to enhance—and, possibly, save—your life, then I encourage you to take this small step on the road to self-awareness. 


_______________________________________

NOTE: William M. Dean is not a mental health professional, and has no training in the field. 

He's just some author living in Victoria, BC, Canada, whose books include... 

The Book of 5 Uncredible Short Stories