Truthfulness

Billy Joel sang these words in his popular hit "Honesty":

  • Honesty is such a lonely word.
  • Everyone is so untrue.
  • Honesty, it's hardly ever heard
  • And mostly what I need from you.

Fortunately for us, this is mostly a narrative that people have made up to explain their disappointment in others or in their own lives—albeit a very popular one. The truth is that most people believe that it's important to be truthful, and most will generally need to accomplish truthfulness to at least some degree in order to get along with others. The problem is that when people do lie, they are all to eager to justify their own dishonesty while vilifying the half-truths that others make around them. The reality is that we are not so perfect as we imagine and that those around us are often not as bad as we like to think.

It is in our best interest to be honest. When we are honest, people trust us more and are more willing to connect with us in such a way that we human beings require to get along. We also tend not to get mired in as much drama when we are honest with others (and ourselves), and society in general depends on us to tell the truth and keep honest exchanges with one another. The more we think of it, the more clear it is that general truthfulness is the best and easiest policy to keep.

The other side of this coin, however, is that we have to tolerate failure and disappointment in others if we expect those around us to be honest with us—have to. While our own dishonesty should not be personally tolerated, we cannot responsibly demand honesty from others if we aren't willing to provide some assurance that we will be willing to forgive them and still treat them with respect when they disappoint us. People simply cannot be expected to be perfectly truthful all the time. Some examples: a broken promise isn't always a lie—some people are actually more skilled at making good promises, and some people are tempted to promise too much in an attempt to get approval. Not all lies are intentional, and excepting the most irresponsible and repeated failure to discover and convey the truth, you will have to forgive a lie like this on occasion. Lastly, human connection is so important, that while we might we expect more of it from close friends, we cannot judge all those in our lives who are caught with a lie to be inherently bad or worthless.

Now, it might seem that I am spending more time on excusing dishonesty rather than praising honesty, and there is only one reason I do so: it is too easy to assume you are honest, and too easy to be embroiled in bitterness over the dishonesty of others. Being honest with others and yourself has to include accepting your own faults and tendencies to lie, and not excusing your own dishonesty to yourself and others. It also means learning not to push others to be tempted to deal dishonestly with you. If you can accomplish this, then honesty will be a more readily available in your life.

Here are some tips to help you become more honest, and also accept the fact that you are not the only light of truth in a world of lies.

Activities

  • Mentally (or Otherwise) Record Your Lies: Try to become aware of every time you stretch the truth or outright lie. Everyone does it occasionally, and unless you can admit to yourself that you might as well never even bother discovering this part of yourself. Become skilled at being honest with yourself and noticing the times you do stretch the truth—some of us become so talented at white lies that we immediately believe our own exaggerations the moment they are formulated in our heads. This skill helps us keep from hiding our own mischief from ourselves. You may even want to keep a tally to help keep this in mind (you would have to be brave, I suppose, to keep a more detailed paper trail of all your misdeeds).
  • Turn Your Self-Reflection Toward Learning How You Treat Different People: Some people will be more willing to lie to strangers than their loved ones, while others will be more likely to lie to those close to them out of fear. Once you become more skilled in recognizing and admitting to your own lies, try to focus on the people you lie to and why you do it. This will help you understand what your problem is and how you can best overcome it.
  • Make New Goals to be More Open to the People You Love, and Inform Them About It: After you perform some basic self-reflection to evaluate your problems with honesty, make a goal to be more open and transparent with those you love. You should also tell them that this is important to you (and if they have been complaining about it, you may want to phrase this as an apology), and let them know about the goals you are making. Some paranoid, sensitive, and/or abusive people will take this as a sure-fire admission that you've been feeding them nothing but lies up to this point, so in this case, unless they really do deserve an apology, I suppose you can keep this from them. Note: Some people use "honesty" as an excuse to hurt people by saying things they have "holding back" but always wanted to say. If you are going to have a potentially painful discussion with someone, do it on its own terms and don't give yourself a free pass in the name of honesty.
  • Get Relationship Counseling if Needed: Sometimes a sour relationship can make people more likely to lie out of fear or disrespect. Sometimes turning toward a more honest relationship can't truly happen until you both work at healing the relationship you have—this can be hard, especially when both of you are demanding change before offering it to each other! Having a neutral, third party can help you negotiate and accomplish this.
  • Learn to Notice When You Punish Others: We are going to "punish" those who are close to us—we can't help it. It hurts whenever the people we love are angry with us or distance themselves, and presumably it will sometimes hurt the people that we distance ourselves from too. We can't, however, choose to punish people out of vindictiveness or out of fear. The more we do this the more temptation we give others to lie to us. Pay close attention to when you punish others, and think about whether each instance is a logical reaction or an emotional response; this can help you be more level-headed when coping with relationship problems.
  • Spend One Week without Punishment: Try to set a limited amount of time where you don't "punish" others at all, around a week—you can do it, unless this happens to be the time everyone around you decides to commit their worst betrayals. See what happens, what the result is, and if you are better or worse off. After that, make a goal to change your behavior. Note: You can't, nor shouldn't, keep this up forever.

Your Record

Whenever you are dishonest at someone's expense, then mark yourself at "fault". Whenever you lie to others about who you are (or to yourself if you can manage to figure that out), then mark yourself at fault. If you make promises you cannot keep, then mark yourself at fault. Make some goals based on the activities above, and mark yourself at fault as appropriate when you fail to meet goals.

Opinions

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

Spencer Johnson, American Motivational Author

The man who cannot endure to have his errors and shortcomings brought to the surface and made known, but tries to hide them, is unfit to walk the highway of truth.

James Allen, New Zealander Statesman

Honesty, disinterestedness and good nature are indispensable to procure the esteem and confidence of those with whom we live, and on whose esteem our happiness depends.

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President and Renown Founding Father of America

Golden Mean

Insincerity, Hypocrisy
Truthfulness
Boastfulness

Recommended Reading

Radical Honesty, The New Revised Edition: How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth — by Brad Blanton

This book's title says it all—it demands total and complete honesty from its adherents. This book's take might seem extreme to some, but if truthfulness is a true problem or you're looking for a total turn-around, then this book might provide good ideas.

Getting Real: Ten Truth Skills You Need to Live an Authentic Life — by Susan Campbell

This book was written by an author who has been a relationship counselor and an adviser to companies and small businesses, and he offers great advice on developing honest communication with others.

General Rules

Practice virtues daily so that they become ‘habits of the heart’.

Don‘t strive for perfection.

Never give up! Remember: even the greats have off days.

Rely on your intuition.

Avoid extremes. Strive to achieve the golden mean between excess and deficiency of a virtue.

Have fun and enjoy the program with humor and optimism.



On Amazon.com

Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either. Albert Einstein
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