It seems an old-fashioned notion, but there was a time when people operated under the principle of “A man’s word is as good as his bond.” It was a time when handshakes and not twenty-page legal contracts sealed the deal.
When I was growing up, that concept was part of the male lexicon of virtues along with integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness — all those attributes we learned as part of the Boy Scout Law. The actual quote — “An honest man’s word is as good as his bond” — was penned by Miguel de Cervantes, the author of the quintessential book on fighting against windmills and other lost causes, Don Quixote. Sometimes, living a life of truth — the whole truth and nothing but the truth — can seem like a lost cause.
When you do tell the truth in this grayed-out culture, people can look at you like you’re as crazy as Don Quixote. There just seems to be less and less incentive to be straightforward, to tell the truth and bear the consequences. The cleverer you become as an adult, the easier it is to manufacture a version of the truth that avoids casting yourself in an unflattering light. When surface becomes more important than substance, people hesitate to drop their masks. The challenge in such a culture is not to reveal the most truth but to create the largest mask. Masks are huge for men in business and social circles. Why? Because, for men, fake masks come with fake horns.
Deception is a dangerous compulsion for many men. Truth is often handled like a competition. If you can deceive me, then it’s really my fault for not being able to figure out the truth. This is a case of the classic, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” If I “lose” the truth, I’m to blame and you’re off the hook. In this truth competition, the dishonest person is not inherently the loser.
That bothers me because, as a therapist, I’m kind of in the truth business. Believe me, I’ve played this truth-game frequently with men. Hostile to the whole process of counseling, they will do their best to keep the truth hidden. It becomes my job to ferret out the truth. If I do, I “win.” If I win, they win too, because truth shouldn’t be a game. We have heard and many times believed the line “truth hurts.” The dirty little secret, though, is that dishonesty hurts worse.
We live in a world of “maybe,” or “I’ll get back to you,” of “probably,” of “that should work.” These phrases act as our escape routes when we really don’t want our “yes” to be “yes.” And we’ve gotten so used to people not telling the truth, it hardly fazes us anymore. It’s why we demand legal contracts and start parsing words and determining a legal definition of the word is. It’s hard to find someone who will simply tell the truth.
This penchant for hedging our bets is ancient and part of human nature. It’s as old as the Garden of Eden, when God asked Adam if he’d eaten of the forbidden tree. Instead of just saying yes, Adam tried to spread the blame around by insisting “the woman you gave me made me do it.” Lying, hedging, fudging the truth, these are all time-tested strategies, but there is a simpler, better way to live.
Jesus, in Matthew 5:37, said, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Another way to put this is “mean what you say and say what you mean.” This kind of honesty is the way adult men should conduct themselves in the world.
The above is excerpted from Battles Men Face: Strategies To Win the War Within by Dr. Gregory Jantz.