A dear, gay friend of mine once told me that being gay meant a decision and a commitment to living honestly. This reality was particularly true for him, as he is a little older than I am, and his generation dished out a great deal more judgment and shame on those who “came out” than one would hope people would today. If you were to come out in his country of origin in the decade in which he was doing so, you had to really be sure you were ready to be met with judgment and disgust. Sadly, several gay patients of mine have shared with me that the shame of yesteryear for the gay community is still here with us—even if homosexuality is now more mainstream and socially acceptable than it used to be. It saddens me to no end that we still aren’t free from the absolutely ridiculous notion than gay people live incorrectly. I realize, however, from my own life, that those of us who shake-up tradition can often make people uncomfortable, and our differences are met with criticism and even ridicule.
My friend’s statement about honest living, however, resonated with me, and made me realize that the idea of whether or not many of us are truly living honestly might be in question. People often seem bewildered or even horrified when I point out how much I enjoy living alone, but it’s a choice that I celebrate, and I know that if I didn’t admit to it, I’d be faking it. Most of us would say that honesty is crucial to a meaningful life and a healthy relationship. I would agree and take it a step further that trust is not only something we need from our friends, family and partners, but also with ourselves. Trust is how we maintain romantic partnerships, friendships and professional alliances, but it’s also how we build character and a positive self-image. By trusting ourselves we pull off such feats as health, sobriety, and success. We often fail when we don’t trust ourselves to succeed in the first place.
In the therapist’s chair, I’ve made a great many observations about human behavior and general trends of adulthood. What I envy about my gay patients, as well as my friends, is the bravery required in them to come out. I applaud anyone who finds the voice to say ‘I choose to live differently than maybe you and many people think I ought to live, but I'm going to do it, anyway’.
I will clarify—I don’t believe we’re all secretly gay. What I do believe, however, is that we can all take a cue from the “coming out” experience. Perhaps there are a great many of us who haven’t been challenged by an issue compelling enough as sexuality to get us into the business of living our dreams and our truths. Naturally, we all have responsibility and can’t necessarily afford to spend our days surfing or doing crossword puzzles; but how many of us are living our best lives?
We all need to prepare, somewhat, for the future. Winding up old and poor is not in any way what anyone I know wants. But I will say that one of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from someone who urged me to let go and stop breaking my back to control the future.
“One foot in front of the other. ” He said. “Life will unfold.”
In that statement he urged me to trust not only the universe but also to trust myself. With that trust and relaxation, I began to live more honestly. I started to question what I really wanted versus what I thought I ought to want. Before I knew it, I was architecting a life of my own design, and I experienced a freedom I’d never known.
I think, if you break it down, honest living really comes down to a faith and a Zen about the future. Like my friend, who came out in an environment that wasn’t accepting, he had a faith in his own convictions that living honestly would work out better than living a lie. Sitting with the discomfort of unpredictability was a wiser idea than conning himself out of taking that risk. The risk of being judged or misunderstood was still worth it to him, in order to live authentically. When you live differently than, perhaps, people pictured for you to live, you surrender the ability to control how others perceive you. For many of us, living honestly might mean living differently, and an a-typical path might not necessarily provide safety in predictability. I know, in my own, life, that when I stopped trying to convince people of the logic behind my life decisions, that’s when I knew I was truly happy—the necessity to defend myself was gone. No longer feeling like I needed to explain myself meant that I was not only certain that I knew what I was doing, but also meant that I was resolved with traveling wherever those decisions might take me. Living honestly is, intrinsically, a risk. Quite possibly, however, the greatest risk you might ever take.
Honest living does not translate into being foolish or cavalier. Your life and time are precious. Few decisions are without consequence, and the choices we make do tend to impact life trajectories. Honest living is both thoughtful and mindful and does not mean you give absolutely zero thought to the future. What honest living is more about is living with less anxiety about the future and avoiding attempts to control it to a compulsive degree. Extreme worry about the future can stifle us and prevent us from spending our time here the way we may truly want to. Most importantly, honest living is a commitment to living without secrecy. Many of us are aware of how the secrets we keep from others can devastate our personal lives and relationships. The secrets we keep from ourselves, however, can devastate us, as well. Secrets act as a barrier to trust and there is no one more deserving of your trust than you. Many of us strive to be honest purely because honesty is a virtue, and if you live by the credo of "be nice to people", then most likely you want to be an honest partner, employee, parent and friend. What you might not be considering, however, is that in addition to playing your roles in life honestly, you may want to also make sure you're being the most honest with yourself.