The Sin of Pride (or On Being Wrong)

Anyone who knows me ought to instantly recognize something strange with the title of this article: I basically never use the word sin—not outside of mockery, anyway. The very notion of sin as a thing is deeply deserving of a thorough lampooning. It is a manufactured, illusory disease for which the only cure is said to be a treatment, equally illusory, administered by the ecclesiastic—it is nothing more than the adult version of cooties.

Thanks to contemporary culture, however, sin has begun to take on a secular meaning of “any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse,etc.” I generally prefer to avoid using even this meaning of the word, but today’s topic justifies a break from this tradition. When it appears in the form of hubris or conceit, pride is a truly reprehensible state.

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“Liberal” Honesty?

First, a disclaimer: the “liberal” I use on this page is intended to have absolutely nothing to do with the twisted sense in which it’s used in the US. (In that sense, “liberal” is a kind of stealth-pejorative that gets applied to anyone who isn’t a Republican—put another way, against anyone who disagrees with fundamentalist Christian policy or so-called traditional ideology.) Instead, I use this term to represent a sort of regression toward the mean by stepping back from “radical” honesty, which I have previously referenced.

As a rule (in the piratical sense—a guideline), I believe in being pretty open. I don’t mind expressing my views, even political or religious ones, until the social context makes it inappropriate to do so, but inappropriateness can be a tricky thing to pin down. To avoid getting distracted by the specific boundaries of situational appropriateness, I’ll just summarize it by suggesting “most non-professional situations” (i.e., outside of work-related functions). Let’s agree that this is a horrible oversimplification and move on.

“Radical” honesty fails the asshole test, but its basic premise—that people should be honest with each other—is a deeply valuable insight. If the general idea can be salvaged, why throw it away? (There’s a baby-bathwater reference to be made somewhere.) Being more open about your feelings needn’t intrinsically have a negative effect. The reason radical honesty fails here is because it presumes that the people you deal with are willing to accommodate your bluntness (or that you don’t mind alienating people if they aren’t). If we remove this presupposition, we’re left with something far more socially acceptable.*

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Honesty: The Best Policy?

I admit to having a somewhat tenuous relationship with honesty. Don’t let that statement fool you, however. I’m a huge supporter of being honest, and an equally big detractor of  lying—most of the time. I firmly believe in being honest whenever practical, which translates to damn near all of the time, but the suggestion that we should always be entirely honest in every situation perplexes me. Here are my thoughts on honesty; hopefully you’ll judge them to have merit. If not, I trust you to tell me where I’ve gone wrong.*

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