Intellectual Honesty

integrity Kurt Vonnegut risk writing

The idea stuck with me. The choice to censor ourselves, a habit I've had for a very long time in my pointless quest (recently abandoned) to please others, ulitmately leads to a fuzzy sense of self at best, and outright dishonesty and duplicity at worst. By putting myself out there, holding fast to my intellectual ideals, I would learn two things: first, that by being myself, my friends are not going to abandon me; second, it's okay to upset some people because it's not going to ruin my life. Thus, I would learn that I can be honest about my real feelings on the world. This leads to a stronger integrity and ultimately more self-confidence, a sense that no matter what happens, I can handle it.

A true Warrior, obviously, has intellectual honesty and the integrity of character that comes from it. A true Warrior does not try to please everyone he comes across, he sticks to his guns and presents to the world a true image of himself.

The problem arises when being unashamedly honest about yourself and your life includes information about other people. Furthermore, what about employer considerations? Would I be doing myself any favors by writing about experiences that are embarrasing or shameful, even if these are universal human experiences, if future employers use it as a grounds to turn me down? Or should I simply dance around all the sensitive issues, never really making any ripples?

At a certain point, being honest with yourself requires being honest with others. Staying true to the substance of your ideas without compromise is a key component of intellectual honesty, and I've found that by trying to avoid offending, I end up losing integrity. But discretion is a virtue as well. I feel I am getting to the point where I care more about the integrity of my ideas than the transient effects that has on my relationships with people (assuming there are even any effects).

I recently read a Kurt Vonnegut short story in which a woman published a book revealing all the hypocrisy of her small town, at the behest of her cosmopolitan lover to be more intellectually courageous. She earned herself the enmity of everyone she knew and nearly destroyed her marriage, but in the end, Vonnegut's portrayal of her was positive, and she ultimately appreciated finally having the courage to write the truth.

Like most things in life worth doing, there is some risk involved. And you can't really soften that risk. Part of the value of the act lies in accepting the consequences that maybe things won't turn out alright. Like a solo camping trip, the value of the endeavor is lost if you eliminate the risk through various safety measures (taking someone along, having constant check-ins). Intellectual honesty, like tests of physical and mental endurance, requires acceptance of real risk, with potentially disasterous consequences. I feel like it's about time I took that risk and stop playing it safe.

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