Becoming an Honest Person
Why Become Honest?
The rewards of honesty are vast. Honesty rewards us internally, clears our conscious, improves self-esteem, and draws others to us. This article helps us figure out why we're being dishonest and how we can change our behaviors and our lives to achieve the benefits of honesty.
Why Are We Dishonest?
There are so many reasons people lie. Some reasons include good intentions and others do not. Here are a few examples:
- We may lie to our children about the existence of some traditional characters such as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.
- We may lie to a friend about a new haircut, saying we like it, with the intention of building their self-esteem.
- We may tell a spouse that we loved that new recipe, with the intention of maintaining her/his happiness and a good relationship.
- We may be trying the "fake it before you make it" system where you look yourself in the eye in the mirror and say things like, "I'm smart, I'm attractive, I deserve this, etc.," when you don't actually believe what you're saying.
- Pumping up your resume to make you sound more experienced or educated than you actually are.
- Over complimenting or buddying-up to your boss when you really don't believe what you're saying.
- Over or underestimating on your taxes.
- Claiming credit for someone else's work.
- Exaggerating a story to make yourself seem more exciting or smart or whatever.
- Claiming "the check's in the mail" when it really isn't
- Lying about a co-worker to his/her boss
- Lying to your spouse about not cheating on him/her
- Lying to avoid the consequences of our behavior
- Lying to get ahead
- Lying to seek revenge and intentionally harm someone
In essence, we lie to change our or someone else's reality, because we think that an altered reality would be more fun, make us more money, improve how people think of us, or cause harm to others without direct repercussions.
What Is Honesty?
Defining honesty is tricky since right and wrong may be different for people living in different situations.
Consider your family. Generally, we know that it's important to be honest with our spouses about our job, finances, children, and more. So consider three different situations:
- A healthy family that is open about their relationship, is not judgmental or demanding, and uses a sense of humor when recognizing our own and each other's weaknesses or mistakes. Telling the husband that this is the most disgusting lasagna they've ever tasted only brings about hilarity and an order for pizza delivery. Honesty abounds.
- A family with some mistrust or insecurity. Members of this family may be reticent about sharing the results of test grades or office work reviews. They may give into temptation and purchase something that they had agreed not to, then lie about its price to their spouse.
- Members of this family are abusive. One parent may lie about a child's lack of achievement, knowing that they are protecting the child from parental abuse. Family beliefs are disparate, and lying is frequently used to keep the peace.
Presented with these scenarios, many people will disagree about which life situations and levels of honesty are acceptable.
Everyone's reality is different, and everyone can justify dishonesty.
Many of us disagree on what is right, what is wrong, and what is a gray area (meaning lying may be acceptable in some situations.)
But, what I've found is that if you're living in situation 2 or 3 from above, use these as flags to recognize that behavioral or actual life changes are in order.
Creating an Honest Lifestyle
At a certain point in my life, I decided that I was being and had been very dishonest in many, many ways - none with bad intentions - but many lies told in the questionable categories.
I decided that all of this dishonesty simply reflected a lack of self-esteem (people wouldn't accept me if they knew the real me), and was eating away at my soul.
I set out to find my honesty. This was not as easy as I thought. It involved years of constant introspection and actual difficult lifestyle changes.
What I was Doing and How I Fixed It
The problem: I was raised in a family where expectations regarding academic achievement and religious standards were incredibly high. Acceptance was only found if I met these rigorous expectations. So, lying became a way of life. I lied about who I was hanging out with (not church friends), what my friends and I were doing, how much homework I should be doing, how much I wanted to go to church (I frequently came down with a mysterious illness that allowed me to miss services), that I believed everything I was hearing in church, that I liked everyone in church (I was expected to keep a smile plastered on my face and make small talk with people I couldn't stand), and more.
The fix: As soon as I turned 18 and graduated high school, I married a man from church. This fixed the problem of parental expectations, but the religious expectations and lying actually increased. It was not until many years later when I put myself through college and left the church that I could eliminate that huge amount of lying. It felt really great and freeing to my soul.
The problem: But, the problem with the overly zealous, ADHD, abusive husband remained. I believed that there was no way to live with him, avoiding abuse of myself and my daughter, without constant lying. I felt that I had to help maintain his ego with lies, I had to hide any non-religious behavior, I lied about wanting to go to church (again, I got sick a lot), I lied to myself and everyone else about the state of our marriage, I lied about how much the groceries cost. I was dishonest about most everything to most everyone, except my daughter. But, with her, I still had to couch my words carefully.
The fix: Again, a very difficult life change was needed. The divorce set me free from a huge amount of dishonesty. Having just completed college and talking to others who were like the true me and weren't ashamed of it, I learned to be truthful about myself to others, and the responses were great. Learning to knowingly reveal a piece of my past that was shameful just brought people closer to me with compassion and reassurance that I'm a good person, and that's all that matters.
The problem: Even now, everyday, are chances for me to lie or exaggerate about myself or someone else.
The fix: This level of dishonesty can involve conscious behavioral changes. I've learned to recognize when I'm tempted to lie, stop and ask myself if the lie is worth the disappointment I would feel in myself. I have found that people are much more attracted to people with their own limitations, since everyone has them. Most people are pretty quick to identify a genuine person versus an exaggerator. Therefore, there is no need or advantage to dishonesty.
What Honesty Leads To
For me, the more honest I became, the clearer picture of the world and reality developed before my eyes. My self-esteem blossomed. I developed the attitude that if someone isn't impressed or doesn't like what I say (not being rude or offensively blunt), that's too bad.
In addition, my level of guilt has lowered dramatically. There are times I wish I had just kept my opinion to myself and feel bad if the words I spoke hurt someone, but in all, my conscious is very near clear.
This brings us to the subject of honesty vs bluntness.
The Difference Between Honesty and Bluntness
Some people don't understand the difference between honesty and bluntness.
As for myself, I feel a desire to make people feel better about themselves. I've come to realize that I don't have to pass judgment or comment on what someone says, even if I know that they're lying to me or themselves. Being honest myself helps me recognize why a person is being dishonest and possibly feel some compassion for them. No comment is necessary.
Besides not commenting at appropriate times, I've also figured out how to handle certain situations where lying would make someone feel better. For instance, if a girlfriend is sporting a new haircut and I think it isn't attractive on her, I'll say something like: "Wow! Look at you! Do you love it? Is it easy to take care of?" because the important thing to me is that she feels good about herself, not asserting my opinion.
Any Benefits to Dishonesty?
After some decades of tackling my honesty issue in phases, I realize that there are no benefits to lying, and that if I'm thinking about being dishonest, I need to examine the reason. If it's simply a chance to make myself look better or gain someone's approval, I choose not to lie. Even if the answer is a bit unexpected to the person I'm talking to, I feel better about myself if I'm honest, and remember that everyone is responsible for their own thoughts, so my listener will just have to deal with that I said.
If it's a situation where lying will remove me from debilitating criticism or danger, I need to look into changing that life situation, perhaps disassociating myself from a certain person.