“Honesty,” in the words of Poet David Whyte, “is reached through the doorway of grief and loss. Where we cannot go in our mind, memory or body, we cannot be straight with one another, with the world or with ourselves.”

If what he says is true, and I believe it is, it may explain why honesty is in such short supply these days and why we find the need to create “alternative facts” to protect ourselves and our world view. The term “alternative facts” is the most recent soundbite and euphemism for falsehoods masquerading as facts. The term may have originated with Kellyanne Conway, but the practice of creating them did not. Alternative facts have been used to explain away unfortunate emails, they have been used to deny climate change, even to justify going to war. (Most of us will remember the “facts” of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.)

Flights from facts are not limited to the political realm. Creationists present alternative facts to counter accepted science on the age of the earth, and the evolution of life on that earth. These “alternative facts” come from a literal interpretation of Genesis.

As children we may have learned the value of alternative facts to explain the broken window or the disappearance of cookies in the jar. I know I did, and my alternative facts often included my younger brother.

Consider David Whyte’s words and you understand why honesty is so hard. To be honest about ourselves, a situation or an event can be painful because it does so often involve loss. Fear of loss and its subsequent grief keeps us all dancing at that doorway causing us to perpetrate dishonesties, conscious and unconscious, great and small. Step into honesty, and we put ourselves in danger of losing the certainty of our faith, or our world perspective, or our prejudices about others. Step through that doorway into honesty about ourselves and we risk losing the esteem, the regard, even the love of others, be they our family and friends, our constituents, our colleagues. Step through that doorway and you come face to face with the undeniable fact that you are a human being, vulnerable, imperfect and mortal.

Scripture tells us “you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free,” to which many have appended, “Yes, but first it will hurt like hell!” No wonder that the truth is often described as “hard.” My courageous friends who have gone through Twelve Step programs toward recovery tell me about the searing internal inventory that must be taken as part of the process. That sort of honesty does hurt and the truth that is uncovered is often hard and ugly. But, as one person said, it is a “dark grace that saves us,” and in the words of Bill Wilson, founder of AA, the process “is for the sake of truth and humility and a growth in generosity of spirit” for the self and for others.

I see honesty, then, as more than a noble cause or virtue, but as a spiritual practice. Honesty is anchored in humility and love, and has no need of alternative facts, deceits, falsehoods or denial. We may step through the doorway and hit rock bottom, but at least we hit honest rock.

Grief and loss are part of the human condition and we cannot avoid them. We are all, at some time, forced through that fearsome doorway. Anyone who promises they can protect you from that experience, or who finds a scapegoat to blame, is in my estimation a charlatan, pulling strings behind the curtain. But when you find those who are willing to walk with you through the loss and grief, into whatever the future holds, who do not try to explain it away or deny your experience, you have found companions worthy of your trust. It may be you go with angels unaware.

The Rev. Janet Dorman is the pastor at Foreside Community Church, UCC, and can be reached at [email protected]