What Is Honesty?

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

What is honesty? We have talked before on this site about the virtues and how they support the achievement of the purpose of life, i.e. the welfare of our families and our communities. In this post, we will continue our discussion by examining the virtue of honesty. Honesty is the third of the Codist virtues coming after honour and courage in importance. But what is honesty?

Honesty is more than simple truthfulness. Honesty is the virtue of seeking and exemplifying the truth in all things. This means that we must speak the truth, but we must also do as we say we will, admit when we are wrong, and continuously question our assumptions.

When we speak to practice honesty, we must be careful with our words. Taking time to express ourselves clearly so as to not deceive through carelessness or imprecise language. Also, our actions must be aligned with our words. If we say something and do another, we are not being honest. Instead, we should take care to examine our words and actions to ensure that they align with each other and the values we profess.

By this, I mean that we should walk our talk. The world is full of people who write and speak passionately about how others should act, yet they do not walk their talk. They preach about tolerance and respect but will attack anyone who disagrees with them. They rail against infidelity yet are caught cheating on their partners. They campaign against corruption yet take bribes. It will surprise no one that this behaviour is dishonest, so why is it so common?

Like most things, these vices start with the small things. You ignore your beliefs once as they are inconvenient. You steal a film rather than pay a few bucks. You tell a small lie rather than admit a mistake. You flirt with your new co-worker; you steal a few dollars from petty cash. Slowly, over time, the dissonance between who you profess to be and who you actually are grows. You keep talking the talk, but you no longer walk it. So, how do we prevent this from happening? We do it by practicing the virtue of honesty.

By this, we mean that we should first be honest with ourselves. Have the courage to hold yourself accountable to your honour and force yourself to face your failings honestly. Identify the areas in your life where your words do not match your actions, then work on changing how you act. There are no shortcuts to be had, change requires constant work and vigilance. However, the rewards are great if you persevere.

If you believe as we do that the purpose of life is achieved through ensuring the survival and welfare of our families and communities and that right actions support this aim while wrong actions harm it, then what choice do we really have? If we know that lying, stealing, and harming others hurts our own, our families, and our communities’ interests, then what justification can we have to do these things?

In truth, we do these things because we lie to ourselves and tell ourselves that this time it won’t matter. That the little lie will do no harm, or that no one will find out or that the rules don’t apply this time. We deceive ourselves so that we can take the easy way out and avoid responsibility, or because it is easier in the moment. Yet we ignore the hidden costs, we ignore the damage to others, and we ignore the way each small deviation takes us further from where we aim to be.

Practicing the virtue of honesty is more than being truthful, it is having the courage to examine the charts of our lives and correct our course when the winds and waves of life have blown us off course. Honesty is like a good navigator, checking that where we are going is where we aim to be and preventing through constant vigilance us being wrecked on the hidden reefs of vice.

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