Do You Have the Courage to Be Honest?

the courage to to honest

If honesty is really the best policy then why is there so much deception? And if we feel disrespected when someone isn’t honest with us, then how can we justify those little white lies and carefully crafted exaggerations?

If we expect other people to have the courage to be honest with us, then wouldn’t anything but honesty from us be promoting a double standard? Maybe it’s time to take a closer look at honesty and see if it really is the best policy.

Being honest about honesty

On the surface, the concept of honesty seems simple enough. All we have to do is tell the truth in every situation, right? Then why is it that otherwise truthful people will justify distorting the truth in certain situations? If being honest makes life simpler then why would anyone purposely complicate things by being even slightly dishonest?

There are numerous situations that will quickly test our resolve to be completely honest. The tendency seems to start when we are children and we want to avoid punishment. Fear gets the better of us and we say something in an effort to avoid the consequences of whatever it was that we did. If it works, then we just saw proof that lying is less painful and requires less courage than honesty.

What a tangled web we weave, when first
we practice to deceive!
 ~Sir Walter Scott

Since moving away from pain is the strongest human motivator, we quickly learn to fall back on dishonesty anytime we think it will spare us from painful consequences. For some, this tactic is reserved for only the stickiest of situations. For others, lying becomes their strategy of choice and as long as they don’t get caught they feel no guilt or remorse.

Common justifications for being dishonest

Besides avoiding the consequences of our actions, there are a wide array of seemingly more noble reasons to avoid total honesty, such as…

- Trying to spare someone’s feelings or pride.
– Not wanting others to think badly of us.
– Afraid that someone might steal our recognition.
– Thinking that we are protecting someone.
– Protecting our ego by avoiding embarrassment.
– An effort to help others save face.
– Our image or reputation is on the line.
– We dislike someone but don’t want them to know.

At first glance, we might feel that these are all perfectly legitimate reasons to bend the truth. After all, isn’t it for the greater good? Well, buying into that kind of twisted reasoning is the same as saying that the end always justifies the means. In other words, it is okay to do something wrong as long as it gets you the results you want.

Why do you think it’s called justification?

Anytime we need to justify our actions, we already know we are doing something wrong. Making excuses may soothe our logical mind temporarily, but it doesn’t do anything for the internal conflict that is created. When we deliberately do something that violates our core ethics, it sets in motion a destructive emotional conflict. The end result will be the slow erosion of our core values or the manifestation of some self-sabotaging behavior.  Either way, we lose!

Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom. ~Thomas Jefferson

Justifying dishonesty for any reason is the same as lying to ourselves. When someone lies to us we feel insulted because they didn’t respect us enough to be honest. Do you really want to disrespect yourself by doing the same thing? Of course not because all it does is aggravate the problem. The next question we need to ask is: What does it take to avoid the self-deceiving temptation to distort the truth in these seemingly justifiable situations?

Honesty requires courage and tact

Being honest requires courage because it makes us vulnerable and accountable. To avoid stepping on the feelings of others with our honesty also requires tact. Clearly, being truly honest involves more than just telling the truth in every situation, but for people of integrity it is the only acceptable choice.

Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is
telling the truth to other people.
 ~Spencer Johnson

When it comes to being honest in all areas there is probably no one alive who doesn’t have some room for improvement. Here are a few practical strategies to help you fine tune your efforts to develop the courage to be both honest and tactful.

5 ways to become even more honest and tactful

1. Set the record straight. Are there times when you have been less than honest in the past? Having the courage to review your past offenses may cause some discomfort, but recognizing where you have tweaked the truth in the past can help you identify patterns and stop them from continuing.

2. Practice honesty in the little things. There is a tendency to think that it’s okay to add a little harmless flare to the little things where nothing is at stake. The problem is, if we are dishonest in little things it will carry over into more meaningful areas. It is much better to develop honest habits in the areas that require less courage first so we can build up our integrity to face the more difficult challenges.

3. Honestly emphasize the positive. Just because we are being honest doesn’t mean that it’s our job to point out the faults and shortcomings of others. If we focus on the positive then our honest evaluation of people and situations can be both refreshing and encouraging.

4. Don’t confuse preferences with reality. It is easy to color our view of reality based on our personal likes and dislikes. To be honest with others we need to recognize that our personal preferences don’t change reality. They only change how we feel about certain things. Being honest doesn’t mean that we are obligated to express every feeling we have on every subject.

5. It’s okay to say nothing. If someone puts you on the spot and being forthright is not in anyone’s best interest, what can you do? Have the courage to tell them that you would rather not say. This can be difficult when they press you for an opinion. Still, you have the right to speak or remain silent. This is especially useful if someone is trying to pull you into a pointless argument or when someone’s feelings are on the line.

Always choose the high road

Being honest may not always be the easiest or most convenient course and  that’s why courage is required. But honesty is the course of integrity. Regardless of the prevalence of dishonesty, we all have the freedom to choose to live by a higher standard. People of integrity will always recognize and appreciate your honesty and courage.

To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must
be credible; to be credible we must be truthful.
~Edward R. Murrow

There is a strong and healthy trend toward transparency and honesty. People are tired of the cloak of deception that serves the selfish interests of the few while dragging down the many. We can all do our part by setting a good example, and by having the courage to be truly honest with ourselves and with others.

Do you think honesty requires courage?
Is life without dishonesty possible?
The lines are open!

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  1. marc November 3, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,

    I learned that honesty in relationships is a very great aphrodisiac. I cannot help celebrating the beauty :-)

    Thanks for this reminder!

    • Jonathan November 4, 2011 Reply

      Hi Marc, it can also be the exact opposite if our attempts at honesty don’t include tact and discernment.

  2. Evan November 4, 2011 Reply

    I think it helps to remember that we can simply refuse to answer a question – perhaps tactfully

    • Jonathan November 4, 2011 Reply

      Absolutely Evan, remembering that takes away the temptation to distort the truth.

  3. Brandon November 4, 2011 Reply

    Another great article, I love how clear and concise your points are!

    • Jonathan November 4, 2011 Reply

      Thanks Brandon, I appreciate your encouragement.

  4. Nancy November 4, 2011 Reply

    Isn’t honesty the BEST policy – I love being truthful with myself first and then with others….Honesty – such a lonely word – everyone is so untrue is what Billy Joel says – it’s hardly ever heard, mostly what I need from you….

    So true the words – I know for myself when I’m totally honest with people they so appreciate it….

    In gratitude,

    • Jonathan November 4, 2011 Reply

      Hi Nancy, in this particular circle we have the pleasure of interacting with people who have a genuine appreciation for honesty. While most people talk about it, those who are after personal growth and development tend to work toward and value honesty. That is a beautiful thing.

  5. Ken Wert November 5, 2011 Reply

    I love the title of this post, Jonathan! And then when I clicked in and read it, I fell in love even more!!

    I used to be the kind who would tell all the sweat little lies trying to make everyone feel good about themselves until a friend one day asked my opinion and then caught herself and said, “Oh wait. I want to really know how I look.” It hurt for a minute, then I realized a truth that was so profound it shook me.

    If I lie to protect someone’s feelings, how will others know I’m not lying to protect my own?

    Honesty may be uncomfortable at times (although using the tips you share here, much less so!), the discomfort in the long run will always be less with the truth. People may not ask you what they look like in a particular dress as often as before, but they will respect you and ask for your advice when it really counts much more.

    Thanks for this post, Jonathan. I hope everyone comes over and reads it. I’ll be tweeting it as soon as I hit “Submit”

    • Jonathan November 5, 2011 Reply

      Thanks Ken, I always appreciate these kind of stories when someone relates how they personally discovered the value of being honest or ethical in some particular way. When we are paying attention, experience really is the best teacher and the longer we are around the more we learn. I love the the life long learning process.

  6. Julie November 7, 2011 Reply

    This is a tough topic because often we are surrounded by so many little dishonest statements. It is hard for people to hear the truth which is why I love your comments around being tactful. I’ve often run into people that say “well its the truth” but they forget that sometimes the truth does hurt and a bit of compassion in your delivery of the truth is the best approach. Thanks for the great reminder Jonathan.

    • Jonathan November 7, 2011 Reply

      Hi Julie, the is absolutely no reason why we can’t be honest and still show honor to others. The whole false premiss that we need to lie to spare peoples feelings is just ridiculous. All it takes (as you said so nicely) is a bit of compassion in your delivery of the truth. And I totally agree, compassionate honesty is the best approach.

  7. Lulu November 7, 2011 Reply

    Very, insightful! Loved it! One of my favorite articles. :D

  8. PJ Ferguson November 7, 2011 Reply

    Love your point #3, focus on the positive. Our truth might not necessarily be someone else’s truth, since we all have different perceptions of things. Having an attitude of building others up is the best policy.

    Also just have to mention that there is only one honesty — being honest with ourselves. If we are being dishonest with others, we are being dishonest with ourselves first. As soon as we can bring ourselves back into integrity and be fully honest with ourselves, then we will naturally be honest with others. (It’s also a great way to create personal peace!)

    • Jonathan November 13, 2011 Reply

      Greetings PJ, so right about only one honesty. If we start with ourselves so many other challenges just fall away. Thanks for emphasizing that point.

  9. Debbie November 7, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,

    Honesty is the best policy. And if you can’t be honest, then just keep your mouth shut! That is the way I look at it. There are time we do have to be tactful with our honesty. This is a learning process at times, but it can be learned. Learning to throw in a little humor when we need to be honest with someone can help also. Thank you for this post, it has given us all a reality check, which we can always use.
    blessing to you Jonathan, ~Debbie

    • Jonathan November 13, 2011 Reply

      Hi Debbie, someone I know and respect once said that humor opens a persons heart to receive the truth. A lighthearted approach certainly makes all the difference.

  10. Angus November 11, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan, great article which really made me think about my own honesty. I think honesty is always the best policy, if like you say, it’s achieved with tact and integrity.

    Like Julie above, I’ve witnessed people being tactless in their approach to honesty, and they state, well I’m only being truthful. I don’t think that’s a compassionate attempt to be truthful, it’s an attempt to put another person down under the guise of truth.

    I love your 5 pointers Jonathan, a healthy reminder for everyone who strives for personal growth and development. And maybe a wake up call for those who recognize a little of the negative aspects in themselves.

    I’ve used some of the ‘justifications’ myself, namely:

    Trying to spare someone’s feelings or pride.
    Not wanting others to think badly of us.
    Thinking that we are protecting someone.
    Protecting our ego by avoiding embarrassment.

    and also when I’ve been unsure what the best route, or tact, was to take. I talk in the past tense, but I’m sure this will occur again, only this time I’ll have your article to draw upon for solutions.

    Be well…

    • Jonathan November 13, 2011 Reply

      Hello Angus, it takes conscious effort to stay totally honest, especially in certain sticky situations. That’s why I like the fallback position of not feeling like I have to engage. It’s easy to say: Let’s talk about it another time after I have had the opportunity to give it some more thought.

  11. Vincent July 16, 2013 Reply

    Honesty is shaky ground because some people think they want honesty but aren’t ready to stop being shielded and hear honest feedback. What gets me annoyed is when I know I’m ok with critique and when I ask for honest opinions I get replies that miss the point. Honesty in constructive feedback is vital to grow and get better but people have seen honesty backfire in the past so they sometimes avoid it all together.

  12. Miss Britt July 17, 2013 Reply

    Being honest requires a certain amount of mindfulness, I think. You have to notice your inclination to cover up, defend, or protect yourself with little lies.

  13. ANDREW August 11, 2013 Reply

    More and more as I noticed relationships, whether they be friendships, family relationships, business dealings or romantic partnerships, I notice just how few people have the courage to be truly honest with each other.

  14. KJ May 19, 2014 Reply

    Thank you. It was a confirmation of how/who I am, and how I want to live my life. I had a slight relapse with a recent incident. I know I am being too hard on myself, as I have lived with always seeking to be honest. But my recent behavior was unacceptable to myself.

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