Emotional Ponderings: Honesty

Book Cover: the power of truth

As is my habit, I borrowed a CD from the library to listen to in the car. This time it was Daniel Goleman, author of the original 1995 book that popularized the concept world-wide, “Emotional Intelligence” and Warren Bennis, distinguished professor and author of several great books on leadership, talking about honesty. I was disappointed as one would be when one has great expectations that one would be listening to two great thinkers and thought leaders on a topic that they might have some intelligent insight into and those expectations were not, unfortunately, met.

A gentle reminder of the wise old saying: “high expectations = low serenity, low expectations = high serenity.” In any case it got me thinking about honesty and its importance in our work and lives.

What I expected to hear about in the discussion between these two learned men was more about the most difficult honesty there is – honesty with one’s self. They talked a lot about transparency in the corporate world and, to be sure, that’s an important kind of honesty, but what about being honest with one’s self? How often are we stopped in our tracks and held accountable for what might honestly be going on within us?

As I continued to ponder this question about how one actually gets honest with one’s self, it begged another question, “why be honest with one’s self?” This prompted me to think of another old saw which gets attributed to Einstein. I’m not sure if he came up with this one, but he certainly could have. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” I guess if you grow tired ‘enough’ of getting the same ‘bad’ result; if you’ve had enough ‘pain’, you decide to get honest, because self-deception, how else can you do the same thing over and over, no longer works.

What is the connection with emotional intelligence and EQ? I think it’s Emotional Self-Awareness that is the skill we require to face ourselves, but what’s our motivation for doing so? Maybe it’s tiring of a lack of Happiness or Self-Actualization.

I believe that just as organizations need to ‘face their brutal truth’ as Jim Collins points out in Good to Great, we individuals must do the same thing. We must face our brutal truth and choose to change.


  1. Good post! And timely. The recent government cables that have been released to the public by WikiLeaks has got many of us thinking about honesty in new ways. In advertising, honesty is often framed by the concept of “strategic communication.” In international affairs, honesty seems to be framed by “expediency” and “trust.” In families, honesty is sometimes parsed in terms of “kindness.” I can’t help but think (hope!) that our culture is on the brink of a transformation in our depth of honesty. And accountability! From police forces to international oil companies, the public seems to be expecting more.

    What is especially helpful for me about your insight here, is the way honesty can relate to emotional self-awareness. I suspect that most people, like myself, are inclined to think of honesty in terms of cognitive self-awareness! Perhaps reality-testing and assertiveness are also relevant sub-scales. Reality testing: because so much dishonesty comes from thinking that one can control or manage outcomes (which I think is often mistaken). Assertiveness: because sometimes we don’t feel entitled to impose our truths on others; or willing to deal with the consequences of going that route.

  2. Sherwin, I think it’s interesting your comment about relating to honesty as being about ‘cognitive self-awareness.’ I think much of our dishonesty with ourselves is actually choosing to ignore our own feelings for fear of what acknowlegement means for us and future choices. We often want to choose not to face our own ‘brutal truth’ – which is how we really feel. Cheers, David

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