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An honest discussion about honesty

Why people find it difficult and the rise of dishonest people.

“For something widely held as a virtue, why does it regularly associate with negative emotion for a lot of people?”

Ah, yes, the dreaded “honesty”, a word defined as much by what it is as by its opposite. I think this forms a major reason for the dichotomy of thoughts and feelings surrounding honesty. That, and people trying desperately to justify and validate every individual’s behaviour. It’s almost as if sin and syndrome have become one.

So, honest, honesty, an honest person. A quick word dump finds related concepts of character, integrity, genuine, trustworthy, honour, principled, ethics, morality, truth, virtue, sincere, candid, frank, direct, forthright (tact vs bluntness), fairly earned through hard work, good intentions even if unsuccessful or misguided, something that is simple, unpretentious and unsophisticated.

If we repeat the process, but defined by its opposite we have notions of being dishonest, lying, false, deceitful, manipulative, self-serving, fraud, corrupt, cheat, swindle, underhand, and mislead. That concludes today’s dictionary and thesaurus exercise, we will now continue with our regular programming.

“Being honest requires moral judgement whereas being dishonest does not.”

The idiom “honest thief” has to be one of the biggest oxymorons out there, as how can one carry out a dishonest act honestly? Furthermore, I always have a chuckle at Captain Jack Sparrow proclaiming that you can always trust a dishonest man to act dishonestly and that it is the honest that you have to watch out for. Perhaps we need more people to “keep the bastards honest”, especially considering that Guy Fawkes was the last person to walk into parliament with honest intentions.

There is no denying the impact of social media on the degree of honesty in society nowadays. Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that social media is fundamentally dishonest, however, does immoral action make an object itself immoral? Who are you putting out there? The best you, the false you, the true you – I guarantee it’s not the good, the bad and the ugly. Then comes the question of who should you portray on social media and the whole personas vs real self argument. Once again, we’re at a conundrum, where is the incentive to be honest when everyone else is faking it until they make it?

“Are people that insecure about themselves that they have to lie constantly?”

If we examine the effects of technology more broadly, we can see how the nature of our interactions and socialisations have dramatically changed even since the turn of the century. My articles on communication and disposable humans explore this at greater depth, and it doesn’t take a psychologist to see and understand why the quality of our friendships and intimate relationships have taken a nose-dive. Why aren’t we aiming at honesty more? Do we really expect to get the most out of people dishonestly? Can we not trust those we deem our friends and partners, or is it ourselves that we do not trust?

In a time long ago (my youth, perhaps), one’s word use to mean something. “You have my word”, it was a way of dealing with people and conducting business built on the principal of honesty, and those that were dishonest were found out as the frauds they were and forbidden to take part. It’s not like this doesn’t happen today, but everything is far more transactional, and less personal. You don’t even need to see, meet or know the buyer/seller, let alone make a moral judgement about their character.

I don’t know about you, but I frequently feel that someone is trying to pull the wool over my eyes nowadays – doesn’t matter if it’s financially, politically, socially – you need to do this or that or believe this or that or think this or that etc. I’m sure if someone found a way to sell actual “starter pack” memes to people they would.

So, why does it feel like honest people are rare as hen’s teeth?

  • Honesty is not a hot commodity anymore (trending downwards).

  • It takes effort to develop and uphold such character.

  • It takes awareness of who you aware.

  • It will cost you dearly i.e. people don’t want to pay the price (pain, suffering, vulnerability etc.).

  • The rewards sometimes do not appear immediately evident nor particularly good.

  • Consequences may appear devastating (loss of job, partner, friend, business, following).

  • Generally, people find it preferable to externalise blame than to take accountability and responsibility.

So, in a world of Pinocchios and Fake News, how do we encourage more people to be honest and less to be dishonest? Positively reinforce the former and punish the latter, but don’t we already do that? Maybe it just needs reminding. Perhaps, people have forgotten the “why” (they know they should, but why).

It’s the just vs unjust man from Plato’s The Republic, where Socrates argues correctly why it’s always better to be the just man. It ties in a lot of what I’ve talked about already and what we see today regarding perception and reality, many people want the benefits of being unjust, but they still want to be seen as just.

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We have discussed "honesty" many times Martyn and I for one would not live any other way. Taking responsibility or accountability, being aware and having a CONSCIENCE to be honest is essential to being a good person. I can see others out there would rather turn a blind eye to honesty and seriously, how sad is that.....what a strange world we live in. I am grateful that my world contains honesty in it and it has made me a far STRONGER person unlike many other "weaker people or idiots" out there. :-) X

Martyn Foster
Martyn Foster
Aug 11, 2023
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