There’s an iconic film moment in the movie “A Few Good Men”. Military JAG officer Tom Cruise has the movie’s villain (played by Jack Nicholson) on the stand where he’s pressed him hard to get at “the truth”. Nicholson’s Colonel Jessep barks: “You can’t HANDLE the truth!” Of course, in the movie (written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Rob Reiner, both very progressive), we’re meant to shake our heads at Jessep’s arrogance. Of course we can handle the Truth. Ah, but, can we? Can any of us really handle the Truth about who we are and where we are in our lives versus where we wished we’d be? As much as I advocate in this blog for “living bullshit free”, the unvarnished truth about humans is we need a certain amount of bullshit just to get through each day. Hell, we need a certain amount of bullshit just to justify getting through most days. Especially these days.
The trap in being honest with ourselves is if we equate being honest with being judged. The reason we don’t want to be honest is because we don’t want to be judged — especially if we’re just “being honest”. Inside our own heads though, things get grey. We don’t judge ourselves the way we judge others. We couldn’t stand it if we did. But, if we could push past that kneejerk judgment, let our psychological hair down and run free, we’d probably be shocked by the stone, cold truth about ourselves. That’s neither good nor bad. It’s just the Truth.
For instance: none of us can say whether or not we’re racist. It’s not up to us. It’s up to anyone toward whom we may have been racist. IF someone were to accuse us of being a racist (or bigoted or misogynist in any way), would we accept hearing such a terrible TRUTH about ourselves? Or would we insist the “truth” was otherwise — something kinder and gentler toward us? Being honest with oneself is hard, hard work. But the payoffs are considerable. Important detail: being totally honest with yourself about yourself must precede any attempt to be totally honest about anyone else.
If you’re doing it right, being honest with yourself about yourself is pretty much a full time job all by itself. You won’t have time to give others the “benefit” of your honesty. If the world was working the way it should, all those others will be as consumed as you will be by the work involved in patrolling their own “perimeters of truth”.
One of the first benefits of being honest with oneself however is how it opens one’s eyes to the myriad ways OTHERS aren’t being honest with themselves but with some very important, very human context around it. On the one hand, that can make us more empathetic to why and how others dance around the truth. On the other, the context makes it crystal clear when others aren’t being “truthful” about WHY they’re dancing as fast as they’re dancing: they’re being cynical. Or, worse, corrupt.
The whole point of being honest with oneself is to “vaccinate” against bullshit and bullshit’s influence on our psyches.
Cutting ourselves slack is completely understandable. We all have to live inside our own heads. But, we have to recognize (if only to ourselves) that that’s what we’re doing. Again, the point isn’t to judge, it’s merely to RECOGNIZE what really is versus what isn’t and probably never was.
There is not a Republican Congressperson alive right now who doesn’t know what they’re really doing. They KNOW they’re not working to make America a stronger democracy dedicated to expanding its electorate. They KNOW that what they’re doing will, in fact, undermine American’s democracy because that is the point. If you can’t win elections via the strength of your ideas and arguments, you’re going to have to “win” elections by “other means”. Republicans don’t suppress Democratic voters because they believe in democracy, they do it because they fear democracy. That’s not a judgment; it’s a stone cold FACT.
Hey, look — Republicans aren’t “obligated” to want the greatest experiment in human self government to continue. They are obligated however to be honest about their intentions. And, if they refuse to be honest about themselves, it’s incumbent on our news media to force them to be honest. That’s their Constitutionally mandated mission — to be the final check on power. Honesty and sunlight — they both work wonders on a dark, corrupt world.
In Hamlet, Shakespeare put it this way: “To thine own self, be true”. Of course, the person giving that advice (Polonius) is a deceptive skunk, but the sentiment’s right. We can only really be honest — and the sunlight can only do what we need it to do — if we begin the process with ourselves to ourselves.