What’s so important about honesty? That depends on whom you ask. Some will say the reason to be honest is simply to avoid being labeled a liar, and untrustworthy—it’s basically an image thing. Christians might say, “Because the Bible tells us to be honest.” Still others don’t place all that much value on honesty at all, thinking, “The world lies to me so why should I worry about being completely honest with the world?” Dig much deeper than these simple answers and things get sticky quick.
Honesty for the sake of not being labeled a liar is a slippery slope. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself just trying to be a better liar, and thus, not get caught.
“Thou shalt not lie” is not one of the Ten Commandments. The Ninth Commandment simply says “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Soooo, as long as I’m not falsely accusing my neighbor Robert of stealing tomatoes from my garden, it’s a free-for-all?
And if you feel that lying is ok because others lie to you, why stop there? People steal from you. People gossip about you. Some people rape and murder other people. This line of thinking can transform you into a psychopath in short order.
For me, a desire to be honest started very young. I was with my dad on the way to visit a friend of his when he made one statement that has always stuck with me. He said, “Al is a liar. You can’t trust anything he says.”
Wow, I thought, “You can’t trust anything he says.”
For a young child, the prospect of not being believed can be terrifying. I didn’t break the lamp. I feel sick. I really have to go pee now. These statements need to be believed when you are a kid. Even at that young age, I realized the importance of being honest, even though I wasn’t always.
I’ve paid attention to honesty over the years. It’s always in the background of my thoughts. The statement made about Al stood in contrast with my dad’s reputation of being an honest man. My father is one of the most honest people I know, and I see the respect the title has earned him. I also notice that it seems the Als of the world, sooner or later, end up being exposed. I’ve made note of what a blemish dishonesty can be on a person’s character, and how it can poison your worth in the eyes of those who know you.
Then, several years back, I decided to up my honesty game. Why mess around with basically being honest instead of just taking the plunge into complete honesty. I would become a completely honest person. It sounded simple enough, but it’s not.
When I first considered becoming totally honest, it seems no different than simply flipping a switch. I will be honest instead of lying even if it means I must suffer some consequences for telling the truth. I figured it’s not much different that deciding to wear a red shirt rather than a blue one. As I began my quest for honesty, I discovered that being honest is not as easy as flipping a switch. I was also surprised to see how far from complete honesty I had actually been living.
What I’ve learned is that there are certain situations we all face that we will not, in the bright light of the moment, tell the truth about. If you criticize your best friend behind their back, and they find out and confront you about it, you will most likely deny saying it. If you steal a pack of printer paper from the office and the next day the office manager questions everyone about it, you will probably not own up to being the thief. If you are someone who has cheated on your spouse and is then asked where you were all evening, it’s highly unlikely you will answer truthfully. “Oh, I was banging the intern in my office. Sorry I didn’t call.”
It is impossible to become an honest person without removing the things that you are likely to lie about. Becoming an honest person means changing how you live your life. You have to stop talking behind your friend’s back. You need to stop stealing office supplies. You can’t cheat on your spouse. Or you will lie. I think this is my answer to the question of why seek honesty? The pursuit of honesty itself is like a guide to living a life of integrity. One cannot live a life of honesty while being a thief, cheater or an asshole.
So now you’ve spent some time changing your life in pursuit of honesty. You’ve stopped talking behind people’s backs, you quit stealing printer paper and you’ve committed to being faithful to your spouse. You should be all set for living a completely honest life, right? Nope. Or at least I can’t.
My wife has a favorite dress. It’s a nice dress, but for some reason, I just don’t care for it all that much. Invariably, she will ask if I like the dress after she puts it on. To answer honestly, I would have to say, “No, I really don’t like that dress. In fact, I hate it.” I suppose some husbands would tell the truth in this instance, but I can’t. I know she loves that dress, and for me to say that I don’t would cause her to stop wearing it. I can’t be the reason for her to give up her favorite dress. I just can’t, so I lie. “I like that dress. It looks good.”
My daughter has been working for weeks on her volleyball serve with little perceivable improvement. She asks with wide, hopeful eyes, “How am I doing?” In my mind I’m wondering how someone can spend so much time on something and not get any better. I should answer, “Well, seems like you haven’t improved at all. Have you ever thought about trying Croquette?” But I can’t. I can’t discard her effort, even if it seems all for naught. I lie and say, “You’re getting there, baby girl. Keep practicing.”
Hurting people’s feelings is my Kryptonite. For their sake, and the sake of honesty, I should probably find a way to gently tell the truth even if it hurts the feelings of my friends and loved ones, but I just can’t. We will all find areas where we fall short on honesty, in spite of our best efforts. I believe a life of total, complete honesty is impossible, but the attempt at it will make us a better person.
The challenge is thirty days of honesty. Don’t start right off the bat with your list of exceptions. It’s too easy to domino right back into the same-old, same-old. Set your goal at complete honesty. It’s likely you won’t achieve 100%, but I don’t think we are required to spill the deepest secrets of our souls to be considered an honest person. If nothing else, setting the goal at complete honesty might be eye-opening when you realize just how much we all lie, and yet still consider ourselves to be basically honest people. I know it did for me.
Leave a comment after your first day or two. Is it easier than you thought? Harder? No cheating. No telling your friend you didn’t answer the phone because you were in the shower when you really just didn’t feel like talking to them.
And please, please don’t confuse honesty with a compulsion to constantly blurt out your honest opinion every time someone has one that is contrary. There are times that we should stand up and speak our minds, but there are also times that opposing another’s opinion benefits no one. The honesty of running your lips at every opportunity to disagree will be overshadowed by your being just plain obnoxious. It’s okay to let things slide sometimes. It is not an attribute of honesty to argue every single point. Honesty should go hand in hand with being considerate.
Thirty days. Good luck, aaaaand go!