The honest truth about being honest with ourselves
Hello and welcome my fellow creators of Eximious content!
I had an interesting question posed to me: “Should we strive to always be 100% honest with ourselves?”
This was a philosophy question, but the answer to this after much thinking and research was not a simple ‘yes’ when consider studies from Psychology and other areas such as Behavioural Finance.
I fully agree that radical honesty is something we should all strive for. However, we as a species it turns out, are not actually built to be radically honest with ourselves. In fact we at times delude ourselves into believing our actions are honest!
Not only do human brains suffer from a wide variety of well-documented biases: overconfidence, placebo, loss-aversion and prototype effects, it may even be that we are hard-wired to be self-deceptive.
In his excellent book “The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty”, Dan Ariely offers evidence that we’re able to believe we’re honest even though we lie or cheat by doing so only in little ways. We’re therefore able to tell ourselves we’re mostly honest — that is, we’re only dishonest in ways that we think don’t matter.
For example, if you ask most people to rate themselves on driving ability- majority will rate themselves above a 7/10.
Another example is a 1994 survey of men and women asked them to count the number of sexual partners they have had. In this survey, men were found to have 74% more sexual partners than women. Counting only heterosexual partners, however, you can demonstrate mathematically that the average number of partners for men and women has to be exactly the same (assuming an equal gender ratio). It takes two to tango, and likewise, for every man who has had a female partner there must also be a woman who has had a male partner.
It is suggested that human beings use this successful strategy because it works: this inbuilt ‘motivation’ helps us avoid suffering serious cognitive dissonance over our integrity.
Nietzsche is considered to be a nihilist. However, I see more positive motivation in his work to encourage people to be just the opposite of that. An example is to follow the philosophy of ‘Amor Fati’ or ‘Love of one’s fate’ which asks the individual to see both positive and negative experiences, as good, or at the very least necessary (Attributed to him but has been discussed by Epictetus and in the work of Marcus Aurelius before him- although they never formally used the Latin phrase).
Nietzsche in some of his works wanted people to see that we contradict ourselves in our motivations- for example hope is not necessarily a desirable state as it suggests that things are currently hopeless. Hope for a superior race by the Nazis caused the worst atrocity in recent memory. One person’s hope is another person’s nightmare. Hope was the last thing remaining at the bottom of Pandora’s Box.
I guess you get the idea- in conclusion we may never be able to be 100% honest with ourselves due to traditions, evolutionary hardwiring to prevent breakdown of the individual, society and so on.
I believe it is through the study of philosophy and deep introspection that we can hope to unshackle ourselves and climb out of Plato’s Cave.
Thank you for stopping by and please leave any questions, thoughts, links to further research in the usual place :)