Community & Government

Honesty, Trust, and Individuality in Community

Cornel West

Lesson time 06:47 min

Honesty is the key to living a wise and courageous life. In this lesson, Cornel unpacks how to own your sense of self and the key to understanding the difference between individuality within community and isolated individualism.

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Topics include: Honesty, Trust, and Individuality in Community


[MUSIC PLAYING] - Honesty is a very, very elusive virtue. The great Soren Kierkegaard wrote an essay at the very end of his life entitled "Why I think Honesty Should Have Been a Christian Virtue" because for Christians, it's faith, hope, and the highest love. Those are the three Christian virtues. And he says, why not honesty? It's a fascinating question that Kierkegaard raised. And I'm deeply committed to the conception of honesty being inescapable to any wise and courageous life, be it secular, religious, polytheistic, monotheistic, whatever, you see. But honesty is so tied to the courage because to be honest about oneself requires unbelievable courage. The great Irish poet William Butler Yates used to say, it takes more courage to examine the dark corners of one's own soul more than a soldier on the battlefield. That's Yates. He knew what he was talking about. He's dealing with British imperialism. So that kind of candor and honesty reminds us of self scrutiny that comes out of Socratic legacy of Athens. There's no doubt about that. And you can't have a community without an honesty and a fidelity, a trust. And trust is something that must be earned over time. Trust is a fruit of practice. All the talk about trust in the abstract means very little if when on the ground you are manipulating, subjugating, undercutting the very possibilities of trust itself. And of course, there is no democratic project without serious forms of honesty and trust. And the third one, of course, is accountability. That's what democracy is fundamentally about, how do you render accountable those who have power such that they will not deploy that power in an arbitrary way, an unfair manner that would attempt to crush the downtrodden or dominate fellow human beings and fellow citizens? And so honesty, trust, and then accountability become important if you're talking about democratic communities. That's why jazz is so crucial because jazz is the highest level of symbolic democratic action, that everybody in Mary Lou Williams' banned or Count Basie's band have a voice. And even though Count Basie is the so-called leader of it, he recognizes that if he's not respectful of all of those voices, both when they play solos and when they play together, and there's not an accountability of each other as musicians, not just one at the top-- the piano player's at the top-- but as musicians as a whole, then you're not going to be able to produce the kind of collective performance that you want. And democratic action is about everyone finding their voice, being true to who they are, lifting their voice in cooperation with each other. But sometimes it's antagonistic cooperation because you're over against each other. Sometimes you're disagreeing, even, with each other. Sometimes you get resonance, as well as dissonance. Sometimes it's major key and minor keys in tension with each other and can sound very strange, indeed. There's a whole lot o...

About the Instructor

Cornel West is one of the most profound, diverse, and intellectual thinkers of our time. Now he’s inviting you into the depths of his brilliant mind to teach you how thinking like a philosopher can help you navigate your personal relationships, your decision-making, and your everyday life by looking at the world from a completely different point of view.

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Cornel West

Distinguished philosopher Cornel West teaches you how to think more deeply, connect more closely, and live a more fruitful and meaningful life.

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