A friend of mine posted on Facebook tonight, “Honesty is the most important ingredient in a relationship. Honesty. Honesty. And I’m going to keep typing this until my wife stops looking over my shoulder.”
I know this friend to be quite funny so I didn't take him literally, but he raises a good point. Honesty is at the core of successful relationships, right? Can we all agree on that? And if we only pay it lip service when we are being watched, how honest is that honesty?
It is worse still when honesty loses its value even when we are watched. There was a great scene in the 1960's movie, “The Apartment, ” I think, when a wife catches her husband in bed with another woman. Without missing a beat, the husband and other woman get out of bed and get dressed as the other woman leaves, all the while the husband tells the wife that she must be imagining things. No honesty there, even when someone is looking.
Why is honesty a virtue? Why is it a family value?
The Bible speaks to honesty: there are six things that the Lord strongly dislikes, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. Proverbs 6:16-19. Of course, in the Ninth Commandment we are commanded not to bear false witness.
The Fourth Buddhist Precept is to refrain from incorrect speech and to abstain from falsehood. The Eightfold Path requires right speech, clear, truthful and non-harming communication.
Islam calls to its adherents, "O you who believe! keep your duty to Allah and speak straight, true words." (Quran 33:70);
For Hindus, from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one may not always know the truth or the whole truth, but one knows if one is creating, sustaining or expressing falsehood, exaggeration, distortion, fabrication or deception. Honesty and truthfulness is the virtue of restraint from such falsehood, either through silence or through stating the truth without any form of distortion.
In Pagan rituals, they call to the Rule of Agni, Fire and Truth saying: “I will strive for clarity of words. For words are weapons of great power, and should not be used in ways that deliberately confuse, or add to the blindness in the world; rather they should open eyes and minds.
So the virtue of honesty has some pretty strong backing.
Most people list “honesty” as one of the top qualities they want in a partner. Arguably, honesty is more important than trust. If trust does not stem from honest communication, then the trust is ill founded; if there is no honesty, the trust can’t be genuine. The trust is based upon a pack of lies. It is a fool's trust.
Relationships can be not based upon honesty. By definition, then, they are based upon lies and deceit. What I don’t get, then, is what is the value of staying in that relationship? What is at the core of the relationship that is not based upon honesty? Who wants that relationship?
Why stay in a dishonest relationship? Who does it serve?
In our families and in our culture, we are faced today with whether honesty is important, whether it is even relevant. Whether the drive for power outweighs the virtue of honesty. There are many relationships that come apart just based upon these competing priorities alone. If honesty remains a high virtue, we must remove dishonest people from holding any power over us. Our integrity, our self determination, even our very freedom depends upon it.
I fall pretty strongly on the virtue of honesty. If you are only honest when someone is looking over your shoulder; if the relationship isn’t based on honesty, if lies are freely told, if alternate facts are promoted as more acceptable, it is time to dump that relationship and move on. Truth (and divorce from the other) shall set you free. To this day, honesty is still a family value.