I’ve just been to see Steven Spielberg’s The Post, which bored me ever so slightly at the beginning, to be honest (or not). But soon it got me so roped in by its central dilemma that it got me thinking about the question of honesty in all of our normal, humdrum lives. Not enormous issues such as the betrayal of one’s countrymen, but rather, sordid matters such as betrayal in general. In day-to-day life. And the cruelty of its honesty, rather than the cruelty of the act itself.
So why IS honesty so important? In the fact-based film, the case of honesty versus the curtailment of honesty won in the courts, and resulted in the possibilities of future phenomena such as Watergate. But I don’t want to get into the political side of the issue. I’m a writer at heart, not a politician. It’s just the human side I’m interested in.
As children we’re taught to be honest from the earliest age. We’re taught that lies are bad, whereas as honesty is good. Lies are the wicked witch, and honesty the fairy godmother. Or perhaps the Sleeping Beauty. Why on earth Sleeping Beauty, do I hear someone ask? No? No one’s asking it? Well, I’ll tell you anyway.
Let’s call it Sleeping Honesty. Because the truth is, all of us are half asleep anyway when we come out with truths, half-truths, half-lies (not quite the same thing) or blatant lies. We’re ‘sleeping’ in the sense that we aren’t always fully in control of what we say or do, as in dreams, where we aren’t in control of anything. Unless a psychologist will tell me otherwise. In the little lies of ordinary life it hardly matters at all and we’re forgiven, just as children who tell fibs and can’t see the wrong in them. But when the lies get a little bigger, and still bigger, and then huge, at some point an essential line is crossed. A moral barrier is broken.
But is it? Is it always better to be honest, even if it results in suffering? White lies are acceptable to most of us, aren’t they? Of course they are, because they’re deliberately made in order to be kind. You look lovely in that new dress! rather than You look like you’re wearing a sack. Or Your new hairstyle really suits you! rather than Your new hairstyle makes your face look fat. Which is the better one? Truth verses honesty.
So what about betrayal within a relationship? The ultimate dishonesty. Yes I know, I know, I’ve referred to this before and am in danger of sounding like a broken record. But believe me, when it happens to you it’s hard to stop thinking about it, talking about it and, in an author’s case, writing about it. Because it’s BIG and it’s UGLY. So, unless the relationship has gone beyond the point of no return, why be honest about the betrayal? Wouldn’t it be kinder to lie? To be careful, even crafty, cover up the betrayal, make sure that your partner doesn’t find out about it, and let the not knowing state of affairs (forgive the pun) continue, rather than allow the truth to reveal its honest but ugly head? Why on earth would anyone want to be honest about a truth that will inevitably cause so much pain?
I suppose the people in the US government would have said exactly the same thing, getting back to the film. Perhaps they believed that their lack of honesty, their subterfuge, their betrayal, was better than causing their countrymen the pain of knowing the truth. So perhaps honesty has different connotations in political life and private life. I don’t know.
I only know that in my case, living a lie and safeguarding my lack of knowledge about the affair would have been a thousand times better than knowing about it, which resulted in pain and anger and bitterness, and the end of my marriage. If only my husband could have been more careful. A better liar. Then we might have still been together.