My friend has hit a massive wall in his marriage. It’s not clear whether they will find a way to work it out and stay married. They just committed to see a counselor to help figure this out. Independent of the marriage making it or not is my friend’s ability to be honest. He hasn’t cheated on his wife, or stolen funds from her. He has, however, shut off parts of himself from her. It turns out you can’t shut part of yourself off and allow the rest of you to shine. What you end up with is a muted, dull, and less energetic version of yourself on all fronts.
My buddy has been avoiding the pain of difficult conversation for over a decade. In effect, he has been borrowing peace on credit. Lying about his honest feelings and opinions, his avoidance, has been a way to keep pain at bay; a way not to hurt or be hurt. But each choice to minimize, avoid, or delete the truth was a debit transaction against him. Now the situation is dire. The truth is emerging fast and hard. His credit company has come to call… with interest! The pain he was trying to avoid, the hurt he was trying to hide from is now coming upon him with the compounding force of interest. And his energy and emotions are practically bankrupt.
We do this as people. We do this as leaders. We shut off or diminish ourselves in order to avoid hurt and pain – to ourselves and others. Every detour away from honesty is a burden that’s added to our life load. There are moments in life when we can no longer bear that load and honesty must prevail. Those moments are hard. In an ongoing and optimistic effort to avoid that hard truth, we choose to lie again and again. Driving ourselves bankrupt over and over.
It takes courage to be a human being. It takes courage and grace to be a human leader. Facing, engaging, and sharing our truth is a requisite aspect of life in general and leadership in particular. This is not to say that we get our way because we are willing to be honest. This is to say that honesty is a critical lantern as we find our way.