“If it’s not right, do not do it; if it’s not true, do not say it.” ~Marcus Aurelius
What does it mean to be honest? That we don’t lie? Don’t steal? Don’t cheat? That we “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” Well, yes, of course-all that and more.
“Telling the truth,” repaying our debts, and not cheating on our taxes are all examples of “cash register honesty,” similar to returning the extra change when a store clerk mistakenly gives us too much. The line between “honest” and “dishonest” is easy to recognize in such cases, thus easy to stay on the right side of.
It’s also easy to understand why such honesty is good for us. At the simplest level, it lets us live with a clean conscience, knowing that we’ve done the right thing. Honesty lets us enjoy real peace of mind instead of worrying that we’ll be caught and punished or have to figure out to lie, cheat, or bribe our way out of the consequences.
Honesty also simplifies life by freeing us from the mental gymnastics involved in figuring out how much to lie this time, how much to bend the truth to get what we want, whether we can get away with a huge whopper or just a little fib, whether today’s lie fits with the one we told yesterday, and so on. Life is just so much simpler when we’re rigorously honest that after we get used to it, we never want to go back to the manipulative distortions, half-truths, and outright lies that once seemed so normal.
Being honest also makes the world a better place-and not only because we see more of what’s right with the world when we’re right with the world. When we’re honest and trustworthy in our dealings with others, our behavior encourages them drop their guards. We meet with less suspicion and hostility. People are friendlier, warmer, more compassionate. When we treat others right, they not only change the way they relate to us, but also the way they relate to the next person. There’s a ripple effect that reaches far beyond ourselves.
Just one or two honest men and women, setting a powerful example of authentic honesty in all their dealings with others, may have a deeper and more lasting effect in their communities than any number of laws trying to force people to do the right thing. As with all truly profound spiritual principles, the real power and virtue of honesty extends much farther than just a casual glance might suggest.
So what else does it mean to be honest? Having seen the virtue of “cash register honesty” in our business dealings with others, its virtue in non-business dealings, such as personal relationships, should not be difficult to grasp.
Just as deceit in a business deal causes anxiety, enmity, suspicion, and strife-keeping our hearts and minds all stirred up instead of serene, peaceful, and calm-so, too, does deceiving a friend or family member. The same fear of being found out haunts us and may prove even more troublesome to get rid of. Old debts can be easily discharged by paying them, but old emotional wounds can prove very hard to heal.
On the positive side, honesty is the foundation for trust and intimacy in personal relationships. Without it our relationships are little more than empty shells. Only by being completely honest with another can we ever be known for who we really are, ever feel truly loved and accepted, ever really learn to be completely comfortable in our own skin.
Cash register honesty is easy: it just requires following a few simple rules. But honesty in personal relationships requires more than following a formula or ticking off a few boxes. It’s an ongoing process of revelation and renewal, a mutual journey of discovery that starts with the courage to be completely honest with ourselves about who and what we really are.
That is the ultimate bottom line for each of us. In order to truly know serenity, to be at peace with others and the world, we must first learn to fully accept ourselves. That means honest admission of our shortcomings, but also of our strengths. We must suspend self-judgment so that we can dare to face the truth about ourselves. Without determination to know the truth, and without faith that gives us the courage to face whatever truth we may discover, few of us will ever receive the gift of seeing ourselves as others see us, and thus of knowing ourselves as we really are.
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Links to web resources about Honesty:
Chuck Gallozzi, “Importance of Honesty”
Soberplace’s “Five Ways to Develop Self-Honesty in Your Life”
The Emotional Honesty page of eqi.org
Erline Belton on “Truth or Consequences: The Organizational Importance of Honesty”
Books about Honesty:
Susan Campbell, Getting Real: Ten Truth Skills You Need To Live an Authentic Life Psychologist Susan Campbell is a specialist in healthy relationships and communications. Getting Real teaches how to apply ten skills that are vital for healing ourselves and our relationships with others.
Daniel Goleman, Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception A modern classic about how we deceive ourselves and perpetuate psychological blind spots that prevent us from seeing ourselves, others, and the world as they really are.
Mark D. Roberts, Dare To Be True: Living in the Freedom of Complete Honesty Harvard Ph.D. and New Testament specialist Mark Roberts discusses the spiritual importance of being honest with ourselves, with others, and with God.
Jerry White, Honesty, Morality, & Conscience: Making Wise Choices in the Gray Areas of Life Jerry White’s best-selling Bible-based guide to honesty in every area of our lives