Honesty, Trust and Intimacy
by Eli H. Newberger, M.D. (6 December 2003)
(This lesson is based on an excerpt of the book "The Men They Will Become: The Nature and Nurture of the Male Character" by Dr. Newberger.)
Chapter 11 in my book "The Men They Will Become" addresses the subject of honesty in boys. This last section of the chapter discusses the relationship between honesty, trust and intimacy. It follows the section on Honesty and Parental Awareness.
Honesty complex subject
As I've tried to show in a variety of ways, honesty is a complex and subtle subject, not so much an end in itself as a means of being responsible and respectful to the needs of others and of oneself. When honesty is at issue, there is usually something about the situation that makes being honest an act of courage. It isn't easy to be honest. Often the easy way is some version of dishonesty, which is why the dishonest way is so frequently taken.
Honesty is a principal ingredient in any establishment of trust. One person can't trust another deeply without believing that the interaction between them will be carried on at a high level of honesty. Trustful relations can bear the occasional white lie to be sensitive to the feelings of others, but not habitual dishonesty. Beyond the damage it does in specific situations, the reason we all are anxious about dishonesty is that it erodes trust. What misrepresentation of the truth will the person who is known to have been dishonest next put forth? When? For what motive?
One of many places where the fragility of trust can be observed is in the scientific community. When a research scientist is accused of falsely manipulating experimental evidence, a ripple of shock runs through that branch of science. Because scientists are always building upon the work of others, it is extremely worrisome to think that some of that work might be unreliable or deliberately falsified.
In personal relationships, however, trust involves not just truth as accuracy but truth as vulnerability. And that is where many men, whatever their strengths, are apt to stumble. The exaggeration of the self, or misrepresentation of the self can be second nature to a man.
Comparing with others
In his school years, when he begins to compare himself regularly to others, a boy's sense of himself, in some measure, exaggerates his best qualities and masks some of his deficiencies or limitations. As Robert Coles's story of Elaine showed. a teacher can contribute mightily to a student's idealized image and then conspire to protect the student from realities that might diminish that image. Parents likewise want to believe that their sons match the idealized images the parents have of them. Several teachers have told me of parents who simply couldn't accept that their sons might have done what their schools report they have done. The ideal sons in their heads couldn't be reconciled with the boys in real life.
These ideal images get intertwined with the understanding of what it is to love and to be loved. Boys may believe that they will be loved only to the extent that they live up to their idealized images, and that they can love others only to the extent that the objects of their affection, too, fulfill their idealized images. So they are tempted to lie about truths that might adversely affect the esteem in which they are held.
When a parent and son build a relationship characterized by deep and dependable love, and that acknowledges the frailties as well as the strengths of each other. a boy will learn that some others can be trusted with the truth about him and that he can handle the truth about them.
Think of how what you do affects others
Resources and references
The following resources provide information on this subject.
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The Men They Will Become: The Nature and Nurture of Male Character Perseus Publishing, (2000)
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Honesty, Trust and Intimacy