Honesty – Is it really the best policy?

honestyA lot of us have grown careless in what we say. “It wasn’t my fault we lost the game, I didn’t hear the whistle.” or “I was pushed over and my foot hurt.” Who has never made up an excuse to stop feeling embarrassed?

This covering up may seem harmless enough but over time a pattern of making up excuses can become an ingrained habit, a way of defending oneself against any inconvenient fact that might otherwise expose mistakes, greed, or failure.

As a way of avoiding criticism sometimes people unfairly blame others.

So if telling lies gets you off the hook why is honesty the best policy?

1. Honesty involves no wasted time and energy

Only a spurious conscience would worry about telling the odd white lie spoken to pull someone’s leg, or to give a needed compliment. However, lies that are used to defend yourself can grow and multiply and there can be a lot of nervous energy involved in not getting found out. You have got to make sure it’s a credible story that hangs together and remember what was told to whom at various times.

2. Honesty means connecting with others

Who doesn’t get irritated from time to time by other people? Like with a neighbour who has not returned your garden tool or a relative who won’t take no for an answer. Sometimes one ends up saying nothing, or saying “it’s just fine” and pretending not to mind when really one does.

Not being honest actually takes away the chance of connecting with others authentically and experiencing the satisfaction of true friendship.  On the other hand sometimes people assume that being honest means giving vent to their feelings without restraint and of course this can do much harm to a relationship.

What does work is to be firm with someone about your point of view without going over the top and without taking a blaming attitude. Honest communication can be clear and to the point, yet tactful and kindly meant.

3. Honesty can lead to a sense of forgiveness

If you don’t confess to someone anything you have done wrong that affects the person, how can you hope to find their forgiveness? It is difficult to forgive yourself without a sense of the other person’s forgiveness.

4. Causing harm by gossip

We have all probably enjoyed telling tales about someone behind their back when they are not around to defend themself. Sometimes what we say is true but often we give a biased version, slanting the truth to bring out an unhelpful meaning.

Unfortunately a spirit of antagonism rather than harmony develops. Chinese whispers come into play as what we say is repeated and perhaps further exaggerated along the way and our put-downs have maligned the person.

5. Honesty and reputation

Honesty in business and professional life means being true to one’s word, honouring commitments, and keeping promises. Twisting the truth, exaggerating details, deliberately changing a word or leaving out aspects of a story in order to prove one’s point, are all kinds of dishonesty.

When someone’s dishonesty gets found out they lose their reputation for being trustworthy. And once lost, a reputation is very hard to recover. This loss can even affect their livelihood. Who is going to ask for professional advice that is suspected of being unreliable or who is going to deal with a dishonest trader?

6. Honesty with yourself

When reflecting on a mistake you have made or something wrong you have done, it is tempting to believe the rationalisations that come to mind.   It is easier to secretly but unfairly blame someone else than acknowledge one’s own mistakes; nicer to indulge feelings of self-justification and even self-pity.

But self-deception means living a lie and results in all sorts of anxiety because one is not in touch with one’s inner self. What is needed is an honest self-examination to acknowledge one’s errors as well as one’s strengths.

7. Honesty with God

Adam and Eve in the biblical story, after eating the forbidden fruit, tried to evade personal responsibility by dishonestly blaming God and blaming the serpent. Just think how such an attitude might affect the authenticity of one’s relationship with God. According to religion, prayer just doesn’t work without honesty: for the truth will make us free.

8. Honesty prevents distorted thinking

The truth is often sidestepped when we are experiencing a dark mood, or a feeling of anxiety, anger, or guilt.  A distortion of what is reasonable can be an exaggerated way of seeing what is going on, or an over-generalisation unwarranted by the facts. “The plane will crash”; “I will die in the operating theatre”; or “The future is completely without any hope.”

Distorted thinking like this can result in worsening feelings of fear, fury, or despair – emotions which often result in unwise actions such as panic attack, violence, or suicide.

Better to be helped to think rationally getting a more balanced view of how things really are. For what is true has a power to rebut such distorted thinking.

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems