Question: Do you consider yourself to be an honest person?
More importantly, what is your definition of “honesty”?
You can add your answers in a comment before you proceed with reading.
The dictionary definition of “honest” is the following:
1. Direct and unreserved in speech.
I always related most to the “unreserved” definition of honesty, because I’ve always been a very straightforward person when it comes to giving out my opinions, sometimes to the degree of harshness. I’ve always prided myself on that, because in the Arab world, especially in Jordan, people are not honest by culture.
In our culture, everything is shrouded in meaningless niceties. People are taught to be uselessly sweet. No one can handle criticism, even if it’s fair. Everyone hides their real thoughts and concerns, even with matters like money, in order to not be perceived as “cheap”, “weak”, “different”.
We lack honesty in every sense, and we are actually proud of that.
But wait. That’s not the definition of “honest” that currently interests me. Instead, I am more interested in the idea of being honest with one’s feelings and thoughts.
It’s easier to hide your true feelings and thoughts, even from yourself, and deal with them by keeping them in check. Think about it. Are you really aware of everything you’re feeling and thinking?
It’s much harder to face your pain, your joy, your hurt, the hard decisions you have to make, your doubts.
It’s much harder to stop, take a deep breath, and let all the shit you feel just come out, whether it’s positive or negative, whether it’s commonly accepted, or totally “wrong”.
It’s hard enough to think about your feelings and thoughts, and it’s super hard to share these feelings and thoughts with the world.
But sharing the deepest intangible feelings and thoughts is the essence of creativity. It’s all about taking intensity and putting it into words that others can understand, into an oil painting, into a sonnet, into a scientific law.
I mean, capturing feelings is the essence of being a great artist: Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Chagall, DuChamp, El Greco.
It’s the essence of being a writer who captures the emotions of millions of people: Frank O’Hara, Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy, Emily Dickinson, Rumi, Jibran.
It’s the essence of great music: Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Adele, Queen, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles.
It’s the essence of philosophy that changes the course of the world: Kant, Freud, Nietzsche, Avicenna, Confucius, Descartes, Socrates.
It’s the essence of scientific theory that shakes everything we ever knew: Newton, Galileo, Darwin, Einstein, Hawking, da Vinci.
Think about it. Being a great creative isn’t about technique. Hell, there are craftsmen who work on their craft with such skill that you can’t breathe from the beauty of what they do. But that isn’t what moves your soul. What moves your soul is another person’s honesty. Another person’s bravery. Another person’s ability to stand up and scream “THIS IS HOW I FEEL!”. “THIS IS WHAT I THINK!”
It is about feeling comfortable enough to think about concepts that other people take for granted; the earth not being flat, existence, religion, death, pain, joy.
Arabic probably describes it better: honesty is about “إحساس”.
I felt very enlightened when I made this realization.
I say these words to myself, before I say them to you: Be honest. Think. Feel. Wonder. Doubt. It might hurt and take so much more effort, but it’s worth it. After all, without honesty, we are nothing.