The Consequences of Honesty

There are moments it’s hard to tell the truth.

When the boss asks about the project we haven’t finished yet, when the police officer asks how fast we think we were going, when our child asks us to come upstairs and play after a long day’s work when all we want to do is sit and watch our favorite show, it’s hard to tell the truth.

It’s so much easier to tell the boss I’ll have it done tomorrow, even though we know it’ll probably be more like next week.

It’s so much easier to tell the police officer I would have sworn I was only doing forty even though we know it was more like fifty-five.

It’s so much easier to tell your child No, sweetie, I have to make a phone call in a minute even though we really just don’t want to climb the stairs to play with dolls or dinosaurs (or both at the same time).

Of course, these are pretty innocuous moments–there are others when telling the truth is much harder.

Those are the moments it’s most important.

Make no mistake: the truth can be inconvenient. There are real consequences to honesty: disappointment, anger, time spent fixing a mistake. If the truth is uncomfortable enough, some acquaintances might choose not to spend time with us any more.

And our culture is full of examples of those who thrive despite their apparent lack of honesty, who appear to be able to lie and cheat and steal their way through life and suffer no consequences for it. Probably fewer than most of us think–I’m firmly convinced they are much more numerous in the movies than in life. But they’re out there. And they get attention.

Pretty much the best we can hope for when we tell the truth is of course you did. Because we expect it. It’s possible somebody might come up to us later and say that must have been really hard; well done. But pats on the back like that are rare–if that’s our motivation, we’re going to be disappointed often.

The short-term consequences of choosing honesty make it uncomfortable. They make it require courage.

Of course, there are also long-term consequences: people will view us as honest, they’ll know we won’t tell them merely what they want to hear, they will come to us when they need real advice or real answers. They will trust us. We will trust each other. We will sleep soundly at night, and have no trouble looking ourselves in the eye when we look in the mirror.

It’s the long-term consequences that make the habit of honesty worth developing.

Dishonesty is exactly the opposite: the short-term consequences might make it easier, more comfortable, but the long-term loss of trust and trustworthiness and the sense of integrity–not to mention having to remember the details of all those stories–make it agony for most of us.

The only real choice any of us have is what we will do in this moment. Do we choose courage, accept pain in the short term in exchange for better living in the long? Or do we minimize our pain in this moment in exchange for discomfort and stress in the years to come?

I know what choice I will strive for. Will you join me?

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.