Folks who begin sentences about themselves with the word “honestly” are subtly implying that there are times, perhaps many times – this particular time when they’re talking to you being an exception, of course – when they’re not honest. That’s why they’re prefacing their personal revelation with a qualifier, a certification of authenticity. This time, you can be assured, they’re not being dishonest, and it’s good to be reminded.
Honestly, we didn’t think we could ever write an essay this open and vulnerable.
This must be a mistake, we thought. These “honestly” people probably mean to say “candidly.” They’re making what used to be known in the days of Strunk & White as a “usage error.” Since we’re accustomed to hearing passing Runyon Canyon hikers (most of them under-30, most of them female) use the word “like” dozens of times – honestly, dozens! – in a single burst of oratory, the degradation of our collective language skills no longer surprises. Multi-syllabic words and the dictionary-using elite intellectuals that utter them are no longer respected; they’re mocked.
But then we were inside a corporate calorie store buying some corporate calories, feeling, like, you know, sort of like not very good about, like, supporting? Like, the whole system thing? Honestly, we were a little bummed. But whatever. Corporately produced music was playing loudly from hidden speakers. A boy singer was wailing about love, as singers tend to. We’re not sure what the song was called, but the first word of each line was – and, you guys, we are so not kidding – it was “honestly.”
Honestly [insert confession here]
Honestly [insert description of feelings here]
We’re starting to understand that the popular culture, including the way people talk, reflects the popular conception of truth: that it’s not an absolute; rather, it has various versions, some of which involve candor and some of which involve honesty, and all of which may be selected as the appropriate truth for whatever fits the circumstances.
Japanese uses the words honne and tatemae to describe the contrast between a person’s private thoughts, feelings and desires (honne) and the behavior and opinions displayed publicly (tatemae, which translates literally to “façade”). Honne, the authentic truth, is often contrary to societal expectations or class assumptions. One’s honest reality is meant to be hidden, except, perhaps, with one’s closest intimates. Tatemae is the opposite: It’s what’s expected by society, and it need not match the honne.
If you wish to avoid conflict, be quasi-“popular,” and encourage others to never know the real you, the tatemae path works charmingly.
If you wish to be someone who almost never prefaces her sentences with “honestly,” someone whose entire life isn’t built on fraudulent perception but on transparent realness, the honne path will take you there and beyond, as it leads, ultimately, to enlightenment.
The truth is out there, and inside you. Behaving honestly is the first step to knowing it.