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Fr. 626

May 12, 2015

Indeed, the most striking conclusion that the author draws concerns the person’s commitment or other to “radical honesty”. In short, such a term encapsulates the idea that the person should manifest internalized ideals and inward life in all thoughts, speech, and deeds so as to live a fully authentic life. Of course, such a lifestyle swiftly runs into problems on a very practical level. Take the case of:

a guy who grew up in a family committed to “radical honesty.” It’s what it sounds like: telling people what you think all the time with no filter. The guy was describing how he had trouble in romantic relationships because (my words, not his), he just never shut up about whatever he was feeling at every moment. Radical Narcissism, really. And he explained how he’s only now, as a 30-something-year-old man, beginning to understand that there’s value in what psychologists call “theory of mind”: the ability to understand that other people have feelings and perspectives.

Very simply, honesty comes at the price of others’ feelings. The idea of a zero-sum game perhaps summarizes their interrelation: the maximization of one comes always at the expense of the other. Accordingly, a third notion enters on the scene, that of respect.

Honesty and authenticity are complicated. Am I being dishonest if I don’t blurt out to the woman sitting across from me on the subway as I write this: “I think your sunglasses look ridiculous!” Well, kinda. But I’m also respecting her right to sit there and read whatever she’s reading without being accosted by my opinion.

This raises a question, hardly new in itself: at what point must the person limit her manifestation of authenticity as regards others? In some sense, we have done little more than reword a classical liberal question in which authenticity has now come to stand in for exercise of individual freedom. Yet talk of authenticity should not be cast aside because it treads familiar ground. Rather, it proves all the more interesting for it in that it maps out an analogy between concrete individuality (in the narrow sense that we have defined elsewhere) and legal subjectivity (also defined elsewhere). In other words, individual and subject stand not as opposed terms here but as complements: personal history and universal rights can play in the same terrain.

The writer’s closing remarks bring this analogy out still further when they posit the importance of negotiation:

Every relationship (with bosses, with lovers, with the general public) is a negotiation. We negotiate a sense of an authentic self against the feelings and needs of the other person for the unique benefits the relationship brings us both. It’s cold, but it’s true. Where we run into trouble, especially in love and work, is when we stop asking ourselves: Is anyone getting a really raw deal here?

For negotiation is most often carried out between two parties intent on delineating the limits of their rights and rights-claims. Here, negotiation takes place at a more intimate level, one in which the person’s concrete history as a discrete individual is inextricably bound up, and we can see just how much individual has to gain from engaging both topics and forums previously left to subject alone. Self as subject and self as individual are equally integral to our interaction with others. Such awareness is the interest of bringing a philosophical account back around to the everyday.

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