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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