The Last 5% of Honesty
“If there is something that makes me just a little uncomfortable around you, it is that you are not just 95% honest like everyone else. You are 100% honest. All the time. You seem to be completely incapable of pretence. And frankly, it is that last 5% of honesty that is … well … frightening.”
I witnessed these words being spoken just recently at the wedding of a good friend of mine. They were delivered by the best man during his speech that had, up until this point, recounted some happy memories shared between him and the groom and garnered a few laughs along the way. This, his final point in the speech was equally met with laughter initially, but the laughter quickly resolved into a more pensive ‘mmmm’ as the deep truth behind his words settled in.
“I’m a decent guy,” the best man continued. “And I like to think that I engage decently with all around me. And its not that I lie … not at all. But, you know … it’s that last 5% … it’s that last 5% where our fear and hurt dwells. It’s that last 5% where our shame and doubt hangs out. It’s that last 5% that makes the difference between civility and that rugged authenticity which characterises your life. And it kinda freaks me out sometimes”
Now there was complete silence in the marquee. Everyone’s attention was focused toward this moment, leaning in a little, wondering where it would go. But we all knew that this wedding speech had just named something that we were all familiar with. That degree of vulnerability that we avoid in order to keep our conversations safe and genteel. That level of self-disclosure we steer away from in order to maintain our ego and protect our image.
“It’s that last 5% where our fear and hurt dwells. It’s that last 5% where our shame and doubt hangs out. It’s that last 5% that makes the difference between civility and that rugged authenticity which characterises your life. And it kinda freaks me out sometimes”
Yet, I am willing to bet that virtually every one in that room would affirm with the best man that this same characteristic is something that we most admired about the groom. In fact, “admired” is to genteel a word. His last 5% of honesty means that he does not dwell in our hearts as a ‘nice guy’ with some admirable qualities. He is that courageous and gutsy guy. The no BS guy. The one who routinely enjoins you in conversations that always seem to matter.
Our Original Shame
Honesty … Authenticity … Vulnerability.
It’s like we have this love-hate relationship with each of these words. From time to time we crave them, knowing in our heart of hearts that they are in fact life-giving practices. And at other times we shun them, running as far away as we can get. There are times when we realise that they are in fact the very seed-bed of connection and belonging; the glue that bonds us together. And at other times, we prefer a parallel existence, fortified with pretence and masked with hypocrisy.
Of course the great struggle is that the latter seems to outweigh the former. Our default settings are for 95% honesty because that last 5% is where our fear and hurt and shame and doubt dwell.
While Brene Brown has gifted us with much insight into the way shame influences (or perhaps) dominates out behaviour, some 25 years prior, Father Thomas Keating of the Cistercian Order published a fascinating exploration called “The Human Condition”. Here, Keating considers what took place immediately after the first expression of human brokenness in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). For here we find the first humans running and hiding from God, covering themselves with leaves. At base, says Keating, this is a response of shame – and shame is fundamentally the experience of wanting to keep something hidden that we do not consider to be worthy, beautiful or respectable.
I find it so illuminating to see that perhaps THE most fundamental response toward God (and consequently toward others) that derives from our broken position is that of shame – of wanting to cover up, keep hidden and run away. This speaks so much to my I experience of life and the world around me. I will happily make known my successes – the acceptable and worthy parts of me. But when it comes to the parts I consider to be expressions of my brokenness, these I prefer to keep hidden amongst the 5% of things that we just agree we shouldn’t talk about in civil conversation.
The first step towards rugged and redemptive honesty, is being assisted to explore that last 5% in order to find a name for the source of our shame, guilt and doubt so that in appropriate and life-giving ways we can bring it out into the open – into the healing presence of God and one another.
And so I want to add to the accolade given by the best man – that this last 5% that our mutual friend refuses to keep covered and insists of bringing into the open is not just a courageous move, it is a profoundly redemptive one as well. An act of redemption for him, and for me … and perhaps for you too.
Exploring that Last 5%
The redemptive pathway through the last 5% is not found simply by blabbing everything to anybody at any time. While my friend is ruggedly honest, it is (usually) always proportional to the trust of the relationship, the context we find ourselves in and the time we have available to us.
Further still, it may be important to consider the fact that exactly what is residing in that last 5% may not be immediately available to you. That is to say, we may be so busy managing perceptions and figuring out how to cope, that we have forgotten exactly what it was we were so carefully covering up. So we are left with a gnawing feeling of shame, and yet no real sense of what it is attached to or where it came from– just that it is there.
If shame preserves a distance between you and me, then of course it protects a distance between ourselves and God. And there is only one way to transcend that distance.
Part of the formation journey that is so important for young adults and that we invite our courageous NEXT students into, is to begin to grow in their awareness of the what might be residing in their last 5% while at the same time, establishing the kind of robust community that can faithfully steward the sharing of another’s deepest self. Once again, our goal here is not to encourage the unmoderated sharing of one’s hidden life, but rather for each one to become consciously aware of the things we have stuffed down, covered over and hidden even from ourselves. If shame preserves a distance between you and me, then of course it protects a distance between ourselves and God. And there is only one way to transcend that distance.
The first step towards rugged and redemptive honesty, is being assisted to explore that last 5% in order to find a name for the source of our shame, guilt and doubt. By doing so, each young adult can, in appropriate and life-giving ways, bring their discoveries out into the open – into the healing presence of God and one another.