THEOSOPHY, Vol. 51, No. 7, May, 1963
(Pages 183-184; Size: 6K)


[Article number (7) in this Q&A Department]

One sometimes wonders what would happen if people spoke what they really felt. We deceive each other, almost automatically, every day. Is there some way to free ourselves from this subtle web of dishonesty, or is it an inevitable condition of civilization, and must one always, in the words of Eliot, "prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet"?

In almost any purely social gathering, the words one speaks are expected to be convivial rather than strictly truthful. In such situations, a person who asks, "How have you been?" does not usually intend the sentence as a real question, but rather as part of a fixed social ritual. "Ritual" may seem a strong word to use when speaking of a mere convention, but let anyone (especially in a formal situation) try to break that convention! Let us say, for instance, that one answers his interlocutor's question honestly, and begins talking about his own troubles; he will be made to realize soon enough that he has committed a real "heresy" against what one might call "the cult of conviviality." The punishment for habitual infraction almost certainly is ostracism.

On the other hand, honesty by itself would seem to be a rather blank virtue, at times almost a vice. A person who allows every thought that enters his head to come out his mouth is not likely to learn anything of restraint, nor to have many friends, either. After all, do not our deepest insights generally come to us only after a long period of questioning and introspection? Besides, there are many subtle truths, shades of feeling, vague intuitions, which can only be blunted and misrepresented when put into words. If the Mona Lisa came to life, who would be so obtuse as to ask her to explain what she was smiling at?

So far, the discussion has centered around two "types": the socially entertaining, to whom everything (in public) is "just fine"; and the placidly honest, forever "spilling" his and other people's "beans." And yet such a classification is much too neat to be really accurate; people are far too complex to conform to any psychological formula. Perhaps, then, we should not consider the above "types" as representing particular people, but rather as representing certain tendencies which exist in almost all of us in our contacts with other people.

There are, of course, many reasons for these tendencies towards superficiality, not the least of which is laziness. When asked a superficial question, the most natural thing to do is to give a superficial answer. It's the easy way out, the expected response. A deeper and more complex reason is fear. With an instinct not very different from that of self-preservation, we guard our words, afraid to wear our heart on our sleeve lest we get hurt. Nor is it an idle fear; too often it is based on hard experience. Yet there are more altruistic reasons as well. One might speak on only one aspect of a "truth" out of consideration for the feelings of others. Not all truths are beautiful to look at.

All these considerations are obvious, but in spite of the pressures against a strict honesty, there is something within us that resists whenever we "prepare a face." In physical existence, the soul is imprisoned in a cage of flesh, a web of thoughts, a net of desires; and it longs for freedom to express itself. It would seem, then, that to the soul, all the idle chatter composing our anecdotal lives must sound like the noise of a lot of loosely linked chains clanking together. Quite different is the natural song of the soul.

Mr. Judge distinguishes between dead words and living words, declaring that "when we step away from ... conventionality, words become alive in proportion to the reality and purity of the thought that is behind them." If there are two kinds of words, there would seem to be two kinds of honesty, conventional honesty and a living, spiritual honesty. The first kind, if followed to the letter, would result in one of the "types" discussed above. But the second sort of honesty is the refreshing creative approach to any situation, however trivial it appears. Fearlessness and imagination are certainly called for; but most important is the attitude which sees in even superficial conversation an opportunity to inject meaning, to raise, inspire, transform. Even the most gregarious people will eventually find an unalleviated "pleasantness" wearing, and will often welcome real sincerity as they would a breath of fresh air.

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(June 1963)
[Article number (8) in this Q&A Department]

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