How many times have you said or heard these words before? Usually it means that someone wasn’t very honest… or does it? Recently, I had a peaceful debate about whether or not withholding information from someone is considered lying or not. Growing up, I was taught by my very religious family that there is no reason to lie ever and that withholding information is a form of lying, therefore, it’s a lie to keep information from someone. The other side of the argument is that we are all entitled to our privacy and no one should have to disclose everything. I had to agree for a moment, and then disagree, and then just stop and think.
In personal relationships (whether business, personal, romantic, etc.) there can be very legitimate reasons to withhold information or spill your guts so here are some examples I thought of and continue to debate in my own mind:
- In business, withholding information about your personal or past life could in fact strengthen the other person’s perception of your professionalism or qualifications for a position within a company or consultative role. For instance, should a realtor disclose to their broker or clients that they’ve been making ends meet by doing phone sex in the evenings during the downturn in the economy or even while they were in school? Probably not! On the other hand, that information might be more acceptable and even helpful in attaining work if you’re a writer in the film industry.
- In a friendship, let’s say you and your friend are out shopping or dining and you notice an embarrassing note on their back or a piece of toilet paper stuck to their shoe. Simply removing the note or bathroom trash without their knowledge would save them from feeling unnecessary embarrassment or humiliation. If you know someone is saying something behind their back who would deny it anyhow, should you save them the hurt of knowing what is being said or should you warn them about the harmful nature of that particular relationship in their life? What if their partner lied about their whereabouts one night? Should you tell them and save them from a cheater or could you possibly be ruining an otherwise special birthday/anniversary surprise?
- In a romantic relationship most people want and expect complete honesty. This only makes sense, right? But what if that total honesty means disclosing any of the things above that could hurt that person? What if you know yourself to be a faithful and loyal person and you just so happen to find yourself attracted to someone in your social circle? Should you disclose this to them and risk ruining the relationship all together if you’re not the type to cheat and in the process create insecurities in your partner that are unnecessary or should you withhold that information from your partner and simply find ways to avoid time spent with the individual in question?
These are all tough scenarios. Each of those relationship types are vital in our lives. Even if your job is being a stay at home mother, do your children really need to know that mom had a filthy mouth with people anonymously over the phone before her and dad tied the knot? Some schools of thought would look at this as a modern way of gaining your children’s trust and showing them that they can come to you with anything, while others might view this as a way to only traumatize your children and cause a breakdown in their moral outlook. Both opinions are completely valid if you ask me, so where does that leave the ex-phone sex mommy?
In my friendships I have been faced with similar scenarios and have had friends bring me in closer for disclosing a cheating partner while others shot the messenger and it ruined my friendship with them for good. Sometimes the person just wants to remain ignorant because it’s less painful to deal with in spite of the obvious risks involved. Perhaps they are not strong enough at that point in time in their life to cope with the confrontation, potential breakup or rebuilding of trust. As someone who has been cheated on in the past, in one relationship finding out was the straw that broke the camel’s back in an otherwise unhealthy relationship, and in another, at the time, it was devastating to me and to this day I believe that other than the health risks involved (which never came to fruition) I would have been better off not knowing. Everything happens for a reason though, right? In both situations, I never spoke to the messenger again, partially out of humiliation and partially out of their mutual friendship with the cheating party and I felt like I just wanted to cut my losses and move on. Something I have a habit of doing in my life.
As far as my romantic relationships go, I have been confronted with skeletons in the closet on both sides that were awkward and uncomfortable to deal with, however, I’ve learned that for the most part, disclosing that information not only hurt both of us in one way or another, it also served as fodder later on during the break up. On the other hand, according to one expert I trust, it’s perfectly normal and natural to not only become physically attracted to others during the course of a long term relationship, but you’re either abnormal or a liar if you don’t! To clarify, it is natural for humans to observe beauty whether it’s a tree, a painting, or another human being. With that in mind, it would be impossible for us to expect that in the course of a normal relationship neither you nor your partner will ever feel a rush when seeing an attractive person. It’s the behavior that follows that dictates whether or not they handled it appropriately. Did they continue to lust after this person and even pursue a sexual encounter with them? If not, then you’ve got a trustworthy partner, if so, you might want to think twice assuming this information was disclosed to you. I, for one, don’t mind how worked up my partner gets looking at someone else as long as its not made obvious to me so as to make me insecure or feel that I have to compete with someone else. Even if the thought or observation of that person gets them wildly turned on, as long as I’m the one to benefit from that sexual motivation, I’d rather not know and just enjoy a good roll in the hay. My downfall is that in having my own feelings like that at times, I’ve actually felt guilt about it and in disclosing that information it’s shot me in the foot and sometimes the heart.
During another conversation the idea of ‘ask no questions, be told no lies’ came into play. The very idea that some things in life can be hurtful whether they’re intended to or not. Sometimes even though we know the truth deep down inside, someone else won’t see things that way or their own ego may not be able to handle certain information. one example I can think of immediately is a common question for a lot of people at the onset of a romantic relationship, how many sexual partners the other has had. Certainly, certain sexual history should absolutely be disclosed to a romantic partner such as sexual addiction, molestation, infertility, incurable STD’s or aversion to certain acts. All of those could have a serious affect on a relationship long or short term, no matter how difficult they are to discuss. On the other hand, discussing the number of sexual partners one has had seems to be a futile question unless you’re both virgins. Having to discuss how many people you’ve been with can potentially do one of several harmful things for you or your partner. The partner with a longer list may feel embarrassed or judged over their behavior and perhaps the one with a shorter list may feel insecure about their performance abilities. Either way, neither should be an issue if this is ‘the one’. The important things are shared goals, common interests, a love for one another and everything else will follow. You can always teach a partner what you like and maybe none of those partners from the past really clicked with you and if you could take it back you would, or maybe it will just make you a more confident and capable lover with your new partner.
So what should be disclosed and what should not? Which secrets should be kept and which ones confessed? If you slip up in a friendship or romantic relationship, even in business, should you always disclose that even if in the long run it would have no affect on the relationship? Or would it? There are pros and cons to all decisions and sometimes doing what we think is the best or most honest thing ends up backfiring on us. Maybe, in some situations, the one who swerves questions and withholds information is doing the loving thing while the one who is being completely honest for honesty’s sake is only harming the relationship. It’s possible. Perhaps, no matter how things are handled, if both enter into the situation with a positive outlook and an expectation of happy end results, that’s what will happen no matter how each one conducts themselves. And even after that, there’s always the idea that everything happens for a reason, right?
With a mindset focused on total love and acceptance in my life, I found myself being brutally honest. My thought was that no matter what I’ve done in the past, what I believe in or what my goals are, the people that mattered wouldn’t mind and the people that mind wouldn’t matter and then I started to see that all falling apart in front of me. Some of the people I genuinely thought would completely support and accept me did not and others that I thought were simple accessories have become some of the most important people in my life. This has completely changed the dynamics of everything and yet I still find myself now going back in my shell a bit and leaving some things to mystery.
I think the very philosophical idea of complete and total honesty in life is just as unrealistic as altruism. You can’t throw a surprise party if you’re 100% honest all of the time. No one really wants to know what you’re doing in the bathroom. There’s no need to worry or bother everyone you know with every medical concern or scare so long as you have the support and comfort of those closest to you. Your co-workers certainly don’t need to know exactly what you think of their laughs or their Star Wars ties and certainly no one wants every flaw of theirs pointed out. There are some things that we could never be honest about without being a complete and total asshole and that’s just life! As of today, I consider myself to be a mostly honest person, but there are still some secrets better left unsaid for the sake of other people’s feelings or my own privacy so maybe the swerver had it right all along. I think the need to know basis policy and the ‘ask no questions be told no lies’ idea are pretty strong motivators now. Even then, each situation has its own pros and cons to be weighed out. On the very same token, I’m starting to learn quickly that there’s some questions I just shouldn’t ask but when I do ask them, please be honest with me. Brutally. It means I’m prepared for whatever you have to say.
I would love to hear your comments and feedback from personal or philosophical perspectives. As always, I’d like to avoid keeping religion out of the discussion, so please be respectful of that. Otherwise, let loose and tell me all about it!