My new boss is all about honest conversations. He wants me to come to him about anything I do not understand the reasoning behind. It took me a while to take this seriously. I was temporarily floored for many reasons, not the least of which is the constant background feeling that I am a child actor in an adult play called Life who the professionals humour by pretending that my input matters. Another misgiving I have is that Real Honesty has never been profitable or even invited in my understanding of How The World Works.
Example: I used to work in telemarketing for which a special place is reserved for me in Hell. I sold insurance to people over the phone. If I was being honest with myself I knew these people did not need it, did not understand fully what they were being sold and that there was a reasonable chance that many months would pass before they realised there was a sizeable automatic deduction from their account for which they would no doubt have any recollection authorising. But the pay was good and the hours were flexible and I wanted to go to Spain. So I did it for a year and shelved the Truth somewhere in the back of my mind when I could afford to think about it.
Back to the question at hand. Honest Conversations are to be avoided the same way young foreigners in bright T-shirts and clipboards for Save The -Whales-Children-Youth-People-Environment-Thing are treated like beggars, with your eyes cast down and a very purposeful stride in the shape of a wide arc to circumvent them. It's not that human beings as such are naturally uncharitable but just that you know once you are there and he/she is building rapport with you, smiling from ear to ear and being generally earnest, that when they slip in some uncomfortable Truth about related Whales-Children-Youth-People-Environment-Thing and hand you a form with an opportunity to contribute in some way to its Attempted Resolution, the chances of Not Giving are pretty slim.
It's not that honesty isn't powerful, it's that we know its power to make us uncomfortable and to fundamentally unsettle the way we currently live our lives or do our business that it's best to avoid it altogether. Except in cases where the stars align. Example: I HONESTLY love this cronut. Vegan baked goods are ACTUALLY the best things invented. etc. etc. (also true of non related food matters such as TV shows, animal-related viral content and travel destinations).
What Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Sontag, David Foster Wallace and Louis C.K all have in common is that cutting ability to sit down at the dinner table and speak honestly of the metaphysical. They don't turn away from it but rather use their craft - their humour, their writing - to have with us the very honest conversations we do not often have with ourselves. Listening or reading them there is no way around the metaphorical Clipboard Advocate for Truth, they look them right in the eyes and start asking questions. Why are we here? For jobs, really? For money, surely not? For Progress and Economic Growth - huh? Are we still humans if we divorce ourselves from nature? Is cooking a lobster alive cruel? How can we be less lonely? They ask these questions, trust me.
The real value of this is, like all worthwhile things, almost impossible to quantify. In the context of my work the Honest Conversations my boss was willing to have went back to rudimentary criticisms of all Community Development, Charity and Aid industries. If we are, in our attempt to "help", in actual fact not helping those we said we would "help" - what are we doing? Why are we getting paid? Why does our service/profession/organisation even exist?
It takes my breath away. What better questions can you ask of anything? Any self-interested professional would quickly understand that these Honest Conversations endanger ones own status and yet on a human to human level, a Human To World Scale it is powerfully simple, simply powerful. These conversations start small and they grow. If we can start to be honest on this micro level the huge, very honest questions readily emerge. If we can step away from the immediate feelings of uncertainty about how these questions may unsettle our lives it more quickly becomes evident that Real Honest Conversations are the ones we should be having, always and ceaselessly.
What are we doing?
Why are we here?
Does it even matter?
What are we doing if not answering these questions?