10 of Thoughts

Two faces, in intense conversation, frame a starburst pattern of sharp contrasting black and white wedges.

True honesty is one of the greatest interpersonal skills, and it is not easily acquired. What often passes for honesty is simply one person articulating their issues and grievances with more concern for their own perceptions than for those of the other. Objectivity can serve as a convenient foil for antagonism; if one's own perspective can be presented as an impartial, unemotional account of "the way things are" this diffuses responsibility for the repurcussions of sharing this perspective. One is now merely the bearer of unhappy news, not an emotionally engaged participant with a vested interest in the matter.

But true honesty is not really a matter of telling another something they don't want to hear, under the pretext of impartiality. Rather it is a shared commitment to seek out clarity--clarity untainted by fear, judgment, self-interest, or self-sacrifice. It is an invitation to probe into the souls of two individuals, and also into the soul of the relationship--trusting that knowledge will benefit all parties in the end, and create a healthy, strong relationship.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to exercise true honesty alone. It is best understood as a collaborative endeavor. To be honest, we must not just "call it as we see it", but be open to "seeing it" in new ways. In particular, we must be open to seeing ourselves as others see us, and recognizing that shift in perspective as an opportunity for greater clarity, not as a threat. Honesty requires self-honesty, and self-honesty requires the perceptions of the other; it must not stagnate in a world of ethical solipsism.

The faces in the card are shown without hair because honesty cuts through to the very core of our humanity. We are naked not only of the social trappings of clothing, but also of the more personal trappings of style, gender, and cultural background. Honesty notices all our layers of personality, habit, and defense, but probes beyond them; it is about souls connecting, through and beyond the encrustation of individual choices and habits. To be honest with a lover is to let go of the cherished quirks of your own personality, to lay them bare for examination and negotiation, and to trust your partner to do the same.

Because honesty is a mental and verbal exercise, it can sometimes take on excruciating precision that other dimensions of intimacy lack. It can hurt when it is too pointed, when it clarifies matters we'd rather leave fuzzy. But if both parties leave themselves vulnerable to its sharpness, then new levels of understanding and compassion can be achieved. The challenge (admittedly a difficult one, given the priorities many of us have been enculturated into) is to see the clarifying blades of honesty as a tool in the service of intimacy, rather than a way to identify one's own perceptions with absolute truth, at the expense of the other's self-esteem.

Many consider the 10 of swords the most frightening and most challenging card in traditional tarot decks. The 10 of thoughts is, in its own way, a symbol of our deepest fears--to be caught in the intense light of another's perceptions, no longer able to make face-saving excuses, but seeing the real issues laid bare. But for those who can master the sacred art of honesty, as a collaborative, loving exercise, intimacy becomes not just an ideal but a reality.