But it’s his next sentence that cuts to heart of things: “If I lose my honor,” he said, “I lose myself. ”
With those two simple lines, the old bard told the whole story. Evade the truth and you lose not only your honor, but your undermine your own reality.
Positive psychologists recognize the association of honesty with integrity and genuineness, too. In fact, when Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson first identified the character strengths, “honesty” was listed as “honesty/genuineness/integrity.” In the VIA Character Strength Survey report, you’ll find this description of the strength of honesty: “You are an honest person,” it says, “not only by speaking the truth, but by living your life in a genuine and authentic way. You are down to earth and without pretense; you are a ‘real’ person.”
Setting an Absolute Standard
We all like to think of ourselves as basically honest. But, as I said in an article about authenticity, “We all have areas of our lives where we’re pretending to be something that we’re not. We pretend we’re on a diet, but the truth is we’re sneaking Twinkies when nobody’s watching. We pretend we’re hard workers when we’re mainly goofing off. We pretend we’re being faithful. We’re pretending to be happy. We’re pretending we’re in favor of an idea that we don’t find appealing at all.”
If you’re seeking to be a whole, happy and flourishing, being “basically honest” isn’t good enough. Every time you do a little end-run around the truth, you lose a part of the truth of who you are. Every time. Even when you tell yourself that you’re being kind. You can be compassionate and honest at the same time.
When you pretend to yourself, you cheat yourself of the opportunity to look squarely at the things that you wish were different and to take measures to change them.
When you are dishonest with others, you sabotage the trust that’s the bedrock condition for any relationship to thrive. In addition, your own sense of trust gets shaken. How can you believe what anyone else says if you are dishonest yourself?
Setting a standard of absolutely honesty for yourself prepares you for moments of temptation. Because you begin with self-honesty, when you look within, you see an honest human being. And that gives you the strength to put the truth first—even when it may mean humiliation, or that someone may think less of you, or that you may look ill-informed.
Every lie you tell out of fear strengthens the fear. Every truth you tell strengthens your courage and confirms your integrity. And, as Marianne Williamson says, “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” Our own truth emboldens others to tell theirs.
Truth is Freeing
Practicing absolutely honesty is incredibly liberating. You find the power of living according to your own beliefs, preferences and desires instead of trying to mold your behavior according to others’ expectations. You learn to trust yourself completely and to take full ownership for your decisions. Your relationships get cleaner and clearer and deeper. Your stress decreases, and life becomes both more interesting and more fun.
If you would like to put it to the test for yourself, take The 24-Hour Truth Challenge® and see how it feels. If your experience is like that of others, you’ll discover honesty’s power in a vibrant, new, liberating way.
This article is one of a series on the 24 Character Strengths. You can find the others by clicking on the “Article Index” tab above and scrolling down to “Strengths, Individual.”
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