We have all heard that ‘honesty is the best policy’ and would probably regard ourselves as basically honest and trustworthy. But how true is this ? Test yourself against the following :
– Do you ever tell ‘white’ lies eg to avoid embarassment or conflict ?
– Do you exagerate for effect ?
– Do you supress or ‘forget to mention ‘ inconvenient facts?
– Do you tell lies to get your own way or to serve a personal agenda?
– Do you take without permission ?
– Do you sometimes cover up your indiscretions or mistakes?
– Do you ever lie or do something ‘because they are all at it’ ?
– Do you go along with anothers’ dishonesty ‘because ‘there is nothing I can do’ ?
– Have you been dishonest because being honest ‘would make no difference’ ?
– Have you justified dishonesty as being the ‘lesser of two evils’ ?
– Have you been dishonest for the sake of some higher cause?
– Have you rationalised dishonesty as necessary in order to protect another from hurt?
You can see from the above that honesty is a complex area and can bring us into conflict with other virtues, such as sensitivity to the feelings of others, and negative consequences that flow from our honesty. Also, it is possible to be sensitive to the feelings of others without being dishonest. Our minimum standard I would suggest is to stop and reflect on the alternatives, before giving in to the temption to be dishonest.
We can so easily fall into the trap of easy rationalisation for some short term gain. I say short term, because ultimately the truth has a way of emerging – you may have heard the expression ‘the truth will out’. Furthermore dishonesty tends to hold back our personal growth and undermines our self respect.
There are situations where total honesty is not appropriate but these are far fewer than we think and should only be considered for the very best of intentions, after an honest assement of the alternative. It can take courage to be totally honest and it may require you to dig deep to do the ‘right thing’ by yourself and others.
A tendancy to tell ‘white lies’ or engage in minor acts of dishonesty can so easily become habitual as the indicretions become more serious over time. Often we are dishonest because we are scared to face up to some unpalitable truth, and our mind can be very creative and devious when it comes to rationalising our behaviour. We can so easily sucumb to a web of self dillusion, which usually ends in grief – so nip your dishonesty in the bud !
Our true nature is to be honest. Just observe the refreshing honesty of children before they learn ‘the ways of the world’. The closer we can live our lives to this childhood standard the better.
None of the above is meant to suggest that we should be naive in our dealings or that we should not put our best foot forward eg in commercial negotiations. Also, we are entitled to our privacy. For example, if we are asked a personal question which we are not comfortable to answer we can simply say as much, rather than lie. Openess and honesty will gain us respect. Anyway others are for more skilled at picking up on our lies and indiscretions than we realise !