“Honesty is telling the truth to ourselves and others. Integrity is living that truth.” Kenneth H. Blanchard.
This week’s value is honesty. On the face of it appears quite a straightforward value, as most would argue that it is a core value in a civilised society. However, if you are like me, this value will have created some dilemmas in your life. For instance, is it ok to tell a white lie? For instance saying, “You look wonderful in your new dress”, when you know this is not your truth. Or, telling your child not to worry, when you know that there is a lot to worry about. And, saying that you are delighted to do the chores at home, when you aren’t. I’m sure you can think of examples too?
So what is honesty and how should it guide our thinking and behaviour? I think honesty occurs when your thoughts, words and actions are aligned. Honesty begins with the messages we give to ourselves. Are we delusional, telling ourselves half-truths that we absorb into our narrative? My wife Jane sometimes reminds me to be careful not to exaggerate – a form of lying.
Being honest is about being real with yourself and others about who you are, what you want and what you need, to live your most authentic life. Honesty promotes openness, empowers and enables us to develop consistency in how we present the truth. Without honesty there is an absence of trust.
If we are seen as being honest, others sense that we have integrity and are truthful, fair, trustworthy and sincere.
An honest person tells the truth, which reminds me of a somewhat painful experience I had whilst travelling by car on a motorway in the UK. For a break, I parked my car and bought some refreshments at a service area. Whilst there, a man carrying an empty fuel container approached me and asked if he could have a lift to his abandoned car, which had run out of fuel further up the motorway? I agreed to take him and as we journeyed he shared his story about how he had tried to purchase fuel but his new bankcard had been rejected at the service station. He told me he was a stonemason and his vehicle was loaded with stone.
When we arrived at the service area, near to where he said he had left his car, he asked me if I would loan him £50 for the fuel for his vehicle; he would send me a cheque to pay for it as soon as he got home. My intuition was screaming at me that I was being told a series of lies. However, my fears were overridden by the thought that he might be honest and that if I were in his position I would hope that someone would help me.
I gave him the money, hoping that the following week I would receive his cheque. Yes, my intuition was right – the cheque didn’t arrive!
The situation had presented a moral dilemma, which called for a response in the moment – to help him or refuse?
The dilemma for me remains: do we allow the dishonest person to determine our general behaviour? If we do, we risk becoming insensitive and unkind to the majority of honest law-abiding people, dismissing their needs; interpreting them in a negative and even hostile way, fuelling a culture based on selfishness. I thought it was important for me to be honest to my own principles of life.
You may wonder if the criminal is still at large? On returning home I reported the incident to the police. Three months later they contacted me to say that he was now serving time in prison, having admitted to many similar offences during the past ten years!