Is Honesty Really the Best Policy? (Challenge #2)

“If I only had three words of advice, they would be: Tell the Truth. If given three more words, I’d add: All the Time.” ~Randy Pausch

NOTE: This is the 2nd of 6 one-week challenges to get you off your butt and into the work of becoming the person you were meant to be. The concept was introduced here. The first challenge in the series is here.

Honesty, they say, is the best policy. It’s time we put it to the test.

Have you ever gotten tangled up in your own web of lies? Are you in the habit of bending the truth? Do you fib and tell little white lies to get out of trouble or avoid drama or skirt confrontation or annoyances?

Six Problems with Dishonesty

1. Every lie, every misshapen truth, every exaggeration and misrepresentation removes a brick from the structure of your integrity. It voluntarily puts cracks in the foundation of your character.

2. Dishonesty undermines the trust others want to place in you. Predictability engenders trust. If I can predict the train coming on time, I will trust the train schedule. But if my honesty is not particularly predictable, it will be difficult for others to place much trust in me.

3. Dishonesty can be habit-forming. It just may be that you already know exactly what I mean, here. But hopefully not. For those addicted to random acts of prevarication, lying has almost become the default mode of communication. How do you know when they’re not telling the truth? They’re talking.

4. Habitual dishonesty erodes self-confidence and weakens self-worth. There is something inherently weasel-like about a dishonest person. If we compromise our integrity on a regular basis, we feel it deep inside. Misdeeds are more easily accepted when confessed than discovered after elaborate webs of deception have been laid to hide them. Even leaders of nations have found their misbehavior has been publicly condemned much less than their lies about their private offenses.

5. Deceit is ultimately irresponsible. Accepting complete responsibility includes accepting the consequences of our values and choices and even the mistakes we make. The less we try to reshape the truth to fit our public image, the more responsible, and therefore powerful, we will be.

6. Honesty is, at least in one sense, the highest virtue. It establishes the trust by which all other character traits are accepted as more than acts of fraud and manipulation or driven by ulterior motive.

Why Should I Tell the Truth?

So, is your word your bond?

In all honesty, honesty can be very difficult. At least the kind of honesty that reveals a naked soul, open, defenseless, authentic, real. At this level of openness, relationships bloom and self-respect has room to grow. But you’re also left very vulnerable.

Still, the rewards of an honest life can’t be overstated. The trust and trustworthiness that is the byproduct is powerful. The respect you earn from others and self-respect honesty generates can be life-changing. The free-flowing intimacy trust enables is transforming.

10 Additional Benefits to Honesty (in case you’re still not convinced!)

  1. There is no need for honest people to worry about juggling stories.
  2. They experience less stress trying to keep those stories straight.
  3. Honest people have less guilt to worry about.
  4. They don’t live a double life.
  5. No secrets and no fights that come from secrets being exposed.
  6. The comfort of peace of mind.
  7. The liberation of a clear conscience.
  8. You like who you are better as an honest person.
  9. You have more confidence as a person of integrity.
  10. The joy of being the unadorned, unguarded and authentic you.

Are you convinced yet? Are you ready for the challenge?

Let’s first make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.

The Challenge!

Here’s what you’ll need to do to fulfill this challenge:

Don’t speak a single untruth for a week. Simple, right?

This does not free you to lay into your neighbor about what you really think of him, though. Nor does it mean to go through your spouse’s wardrobe, recipe book, or idiosyncrasies and toss your manners out the window in an honesty free-for-all. But it does mean being real. Being authentic. Being honest as a virtue, rather than as a weapon to cut others down to size.

This means no lies, no duplicity, no hidden agenda, no games, no manipulation, no gossip (an implied dishonesty because half of what’s said is rumor and the other half is pretended not to have been said), no white lies or intentional misstatements of any kind, no pretense or false impressions, no exaggeration or excuses or misleading stories or half-truths.

This includes no stealing products from stores or time from employers. It includes honesty when given too much change or a menu item inadvertently not charged. It means saying what you mean and meaning what you say. All the time. For a week.

Can you do it? Are you willing to give it a go?

Honesty’s Unintended Consequences

Be forewarned: If your life has been built on a house of cards, lie after intricate lie woven into a tapestry of dishonesty, being explicitly honest for a week very well may bring down your house of cards.

But truth will also be very liberating, especially in the long run. Others will have the opportunity of getting to know—and falling in love with—the real you, maybe for the first time.

Just be sure that if things do fall apart, you don’t fool yourself into believing honesty caused the problems. It was not the honesty at fault. The culprit was the lies the truth was hiding behind. All honesty did was to reveal the dirt under the edge of the carpet, it didn’t sweep it under there in the first place.

So, are you ready to accept the challenge?

There are only three rules:

  1. Tell the truth.
  2. If you start to bend it, stop. Correct yourself. Then repeat rule #1.
  3. Be tactful. Don’t use the truth as a weapon to maim the enemy or make enemies of friends.

Clarifying Note to #3

The truth may be that your neighbor is old and your sister is ugly. Or it may be that you are superficial and hyper-judgmental with unreasonable standards. Your perspective may not be The Truth after all. So exercise a little humility here.

What I am NOT saying is to bend the truth around someone’s sensitivities. Don’t reshape your opinion to fit someone’s desire to hear what they want to hear. The point is to compassionately refuse to compromise authenticity at the altar of their refusal to see it. But be kind. Don’t beat them over the head with your take on things. Respect their right to dislike what you may have kept hidden, even if the hiding was to keep from hurting them.

While the truth doesn’t always lead directly to happiness (it may have to make an end-run to get there), there is no lasting happiness without truth.

Here’s the thing about approaching honesty as a challenge: When you commit to truth so that lying about it just isn’t an option, there’s a built-in motivation to live in such a way as to make the temptation to cover your tracks less pronounced. It then becomes easier to tell the truth because the motivation to bend it fades.

The easiest way to live an honest life is to live it so that there’s nothing you worry about others discovering.

Still, I have to remind you that each of these challenges is aiming at improvement. If perfection is within reach, wonderful. For most of us, it won’t be. But if this challenge can get you reaping more of the rewards of an honest life, its purpose will have been justified.

A Final Thought (for those being told the truth, perhaps for the first time)

Lies are told by people who fear telling the truth. For many, it has become a natural reflex established in homes where image was more important than integrity, where honesty was a liability and discipline was harsh enough to make artificially masking it worth the price of being found out.

Truth is a scary spotlight shining ruthlessly on those who fear the light, who are ashamed of the choices they’ve made or the consequences revealing them may produce. Lying is a weak response to fear. So laying it all on the table this week is an act of courage, faith, hope and respect.

If, therefore, it is within your ability to be understanding as the truth is laid belly up, please try your best. Pay more attention to what’s happening than what’s been. It very well may be the determining factor as to whether the truth becomes a new-found friend to embrace or a proven enemy to be avoided.

And enjoy the process of a huge step being taken by someone who wants to do right by you and honor the truth.

Okay! Enough talk. Let’s get on with the challenge!

Are you in?

I’ll let you know each day how I’m doing. I’d love to get your thoughts on it too!

See you in the comments!

Check out each of the Challenges in the series below:

Challenge #1: What Do You Have to Complain About?

Challenge #2: Is Honesty Really the Best Policy?

Challenge #3: Are you Finally Ready to Forgive?

Challenges #4-6 will be added as they are posted.

If you think this challenge has value, please share it!