Honesty With Yourself

I talk sometimes on this blog about the idea of being honest with yourself, and I want to refine this notion in this post.

Self-deception is built into the human mind in many ways. Here are two. First, we tend to pick up on and remark on things that support our antecendently existing world view. This reinforces our belief that we are right. Not only that, after we make a decision we are much more likely to think that decision was right than before we made it. Something about our brain makes us continually and aggressively congratulate ourselves on being right. There is some tie between this and arrogance or perhaps just the idea of an ego.

To learn to combat this tendency is what I mean by honesty with oneself. How far can someone REALLY entertain the fact that they may be wrong or bad or mistaken? This is the measure of how honest someone is. It’s no wonder then that introspection and self-scrutiny are intellectual virtues, because the pursuit of philosophy or really science of any kind involves thinking about how ordinary practice gets things wrong. Practice, or the intuitive and fluid way with which we go about a variety of tasks, is a powerful thing. And indeed it is probably fundamental, but just as reflecting on how to shoot a basketball can distract from your practice of shooting and therefore make you miss a clutch free throw, slipping into a practice like a job or friendship or a commitment can make you justify yourself to yourself, continually, and subliminally.

For example, I often hear people say something like “her mom, doesn’t like me and never has, what a bitch.” Or, “I never get a promotion, my manager hates me,” without ever entertaining the thought that they might be a bad boyfriend or a lazy worker. Honesty with oneself, in these situations, requires taking such criticisms seriously and indeed to reconstruct other people’s critique of your whole way of life as robustly as possible. This is scary and hard, but it is required by honesty.

Thus, the more you are honest with yourself, the more you seek real reasons and arguments for your position, again, honesty is connected with self-criticality. The most honest person not only thinks hard about the criticisms of others, but at times, accepts that there is no answer: that one is wrong or did wrong. That is the hardest thing to do because even as your body tries to reassure you with all its evolutionary strength that you are right and good, you know, if you are honest, that you are wrong and bad (in a specific case).

Notice also that this mentality is an attitude: if you have it, you tend to take criticisms very seriously, and this makes it nearly impossible to have confidence in yourself. Confidence then is a kind of magical and powerful type of automatic and intrinsic self-affirmation. A belief that you can do it that is by its nature deceptive and tends to prevent you from scrutinizing yourself.

I think this is why Nietzsche wondered why truth was any good. To function, one must believe that one’s actions are good and right, and this self-image must be nurtured, which it naturally is in most human beings.


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