Letting Go of Rigid Responses
and Limited Answers 

Hugh Prather

  

We are all presented with an occasional opportunity to say something, do something, or go somewhere that we know from experience will put us in an unpleasant or even dangerous setting.  The classic example is an invitation to a recovering alcoholic to be around individuals who drink heavily.  Sometimes, of course, there are work-related occasions that are mandatory, but often a good excuse can get you out of almost anything.  Yet many people won't allow themselves this option because of their one-sided definition of honesty.

Let's consider what the "honest" answer would be to such an invitation:  "No, I won't come because you and your friends get so drunk and boring that I'm afraid I might start drinking again.  In case you didn't know it when you hired me, I'm a recovering alcoholic."  This may be honest, but it certainly won't lead to greater understanding, deeper friendship, or more job security.  It's only half truthful because even though it verbally reflects the mood and opinions of one person, it doesn't give equal consideration to what the other person hears.

The real questions are, Does this brand of honesty lead to increased awareness?  Does it inform or does it obscure?  If true honesty is an absence of deceit, then the new, popular way of being honest is a path to greater deception.

Today, the ideal of being verbally literal has been raised to religious heights.  It is central to separation psychology, which aims to define, distinguish, and "empower" each separated ego.  For instance, notice that when people say, "I need to be honest with you," they usually follow with a speech of attack, abandonment, or betrayal.

Occasionally, I am asked to counsel an "at-risk" teenage girl who may have a history of falsely accusing people in authority.  To put her in a situation where she could be tempted to make this mistake again would not be helpful to her or me.  So I always talk to her where other people can see us at all times.  But I am not "honest" about this, because she would not benefit from thinking that I didn't trust her.  I'll say, "I'd like to get out of this office.  Why don't we walk over to the park?" (where there are lots of people).

Today, perhaps the most destructive application of ego honesty is occurring within primary relationships.  Many relationships founder before they ever get started because both partners think they must confess every sex act they ever had or thought of having.  Note that these confessions lead to greater misunderstanding.  They deceive, not enlighten.

Nevertheless, advocates of "honesty" have left no aspect of marriage and family untouched.  In the name of openness, partners are supposed to update each other on every negative thought and emotion they have, even though thousands of other thoughts and feelings are not voiced.  If husbands or wives have erotic dreams about someone other than their partners, out of the hundreds of things they dream about, these are the ones they must recount.  If a parent is contemplating divorce, the kids must be informed because this is "the only honest thing to do."  If one parent catches the other parent in an affair, they must "come clean" and tell the children what Dad or Mom did.

Today we try to make our words reflect "how I've been feeling lately," but we don't ask, "Where within me are these feelings coming from?"  We concentrate on making each word a literal reflection of what only part of us is temporarily feeling--yet we ignore other feelings and convictions, as well as how the other person hears our words and what inaccurate conclusions she or he comes to.

The new honesty is about what we say, not about what we communicate, and as such is another version of "appearances are everything."  It, like all other aspects of separation psychology, is "all about me" and disregards relationship--our effect on each other. . . .

The fact is that whenever we talk to someone, two conversations take place.  There is of course the subject matter of the words being spoken.  But rarely is that where the true importance of the exchange lies for either party.
  
   

In this little book on mental cleansing, Prather uses personal stories as well as step-by-step exercises to help readers understand the rewards and the process of letting go. For example, in the section on letting go of guilt and hurtful actions, Prather suggests that for at least one day readers "rise from sleep and make your purpose only this: 'I will go through this day harmlessly. I will hurt no one in my thoughts or in my actions, including myself.'" Prather includes numerous similar kinds of assignments in all of his chapters, including how to let go of..."Mental Pollutants," "Misery," "Prediction and Control," and "Spiritual Specialness."

  
   


 
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