Honesty is the Best Policy

Penguins being awesome. The photo has nothing to do with honest is the best policy. I just like penguins

Honesty is the best policy

How many times have you heard that phrase? I know I have heard it since I was a kid.

Even so, when I was a kid honesty was a concept I didn’t quite grasp. I can remember telling my parents I didn’t do something even though the evidence was all around me. Honesty didn’t make sense to me, but not getting in trouble did.

As I got older, honesty started to make a lot more sense. I realized that for little things, like breaking a dish, I could tell the truth and not get in trouble. However, for larger things I still thought I would get in trouble, so honesty went out the window. I got caught 99% of the time, but I never realized honesty would probably solve my problem.

By the time I reached high school, I was the most honest, dishonest person you had ever met. If I did or said something in school, I would admit to it with no problem. I was not the person to ask an opinion from if you just wanted a cookie cutter answer. I would 100% tell you, you looked fat or that you were stupid. The same thing went for any trouble I caused. I would own up to it with no problem. The dishonesty came when I was asked about my extra-curricular activities. I would look anyone square in the face and tell them I hadn’t been drinking or hadn’t been shooting random shit.

After high school, I went to college and honesty began to transform. Honesty no longer had anything to do with covering up drinking or getting asked about behavior in a classroom. Honesty became avoiding plagiarism, owning up to your work, and being accountable for projects. I didn’t have a problem with the major truths. I would never have even considered plagiarism and I was the guy you wanted in your group because I would always do what I said I would do. However, white lies really started to become a problem for me. The whole “I really want to come to your party, but I have to study” when in reality I just didn’t want to go type of lies. I hated going out. I hated doing social shit with my girlfriend and anyone else, so I lied. I came up with random excuses.

When I got to my first job, honesty was much the same as it was in college. The big honesty bridge was to own up to your actions. If you made a mistake on a project, own it. If you thought the direction was wrong, speak up. If you were wrong, admit it. Pretty simple shit that I had no issue with. However, those little fucking white lies were still there. I couldn’t own up to “I don’t want to go.” I still had to smooth it over with a lie. Around this time, white lies pertaining to other people’s feelings started to creep in. Shit like: “Do I look fat in this?” and “What do you think about XYZ?” became “No way you look great.” or “I think XYZ is a wonderful idea.” regardless of how I really felt. In other words, political correctness really started to creep in.

As my career progressed, I managed to hold on to my overall honesty despite starting to recognize that the people around me missed the boat on the owning up to your actions part of honesty. Political correctness and don’t rock the boat no matter who fucked up reigned supreme. To some extent I stood out because of that reason. When I fucked up, I let people know and asked for advice on how to fix it with no shame while others did their best to sweep any and all fuck ups under the rug.

Then, yet again, my life transformed. I left my software engineering career and became a full time caregiver, and, oddly enough, honesty changed yet again. Honesty became owning up to my actions, but the actions mattered much more. Telling the truth meant life or death. A fuck up with medicine, diet, or anything else could be catastrophic.

However, I quickly realized that honesty meant life or death in my mind but not necessarily in everyone else’s mind.  I started to see how honesty for the doctors, nurses, and hospital personnel had nothing to do with life or death, but more to do with passing responsibility. I started to see that even in this important and life changing world taking responsibility was non-existent. I can’t say anyone ever looked me in the eyes and straight up lied, but I can say when something went wrong everyone threw each other under the bus. I can’t remember a single time where someone said the words: “I messed up.”

Ignoring a short stint back in the software engineering world where everyone acted the same and nothing had changed, my work life during care-giving and leading up to now has been spent starting my own business. Surprisingly, honesty is changing yet again. Now, I am dealing with decisions and actions that effect my financial well-being. If I say an honest opinion and offend a customer, that relationship is over and my bottom line is effected. If I fuck completely up and take the responsibility the way I should, I could be let go and never used again. With a corporate job, I didn’t have this problem. Sure if I fucked up a ton of times, eventually someone would fire me, but honestly getting fired is pretty difficult to pull off. In the small business world, a business or person’s choice to hire you is strictly based on their opinion of you. Thus, the perception exists that you need to be all things to all people which turns out to mean a liar.

Now, saying that I have become a liar would not be accurate. However, I would say I have become the sugar coating king. I still own up to my own mistakes, take responsibility, and fix them, but I can take any situation and word it in such a way that it doesn’t sound bad. I can make myself sound pretty good in any light.

On the other hand, I will say I have become a liar when it comes to white lies. I can come up with a great excuse not to do something almost immediately. I have no problem avoiding the uncomfortable questions such as “Do you have tattoos?”, “What are your religious beliefs?”, and “Did you vote in the last election?”. I have fallen right in with the rest of the world. The truth hurts and I don’t want to hurt anyone.

Or…. Do I?

I have always considered myself to have more integrity and to be more honest than the average person. However, I have succumb to the political correctness and unwillingness to offend that so plagues our wonderful world. Hell, Look at the first sentence of this paragraph. I felt the need to paint myself in a picture of honesty and integrity just so you didn’t get a bad impression of me. The sugar coating never ends.

That is the problem.

The burden of compounding excuses that I have to remember and hiding my true opinions and actions for fear of judgment is becoming unbearable.

The sugar coating of my mistakes is almost sickening.

The endless worry of did I offend this or that person is plain stupid.

The whole thing is just too much

So, when the task of writing my own Philosophy in Life came up, I immediately knew what I wanted one of them to be: I tell the truth no matter how uncomfortable the truth happens to be.

Seven things I have learned from trying to tell the truth

  1. Telling the truth is hard.  I have the perception that people will get their feelings hurt if I tell them something other than what they want to hear. Especially when it pertains to business, I catch myself always saying “yes” even when I know I hate the idea. Plain and simple, hurting people’s feelings is hard.
  2. The small, seemingly unimportant lies come so frequently I don’t even realize I am lying. When something big happens recognizing that I must take responsibility and tell the truth is easy. However, all those little questions throughout the day that are so easy to make up an excuse for just go unnoticed. I am so used to just saying yes or just coming up with an excuse that I have trouble having the presence of mind to recognize that it’s time to exercise my truth muscle.
  3. The simplest way to the truth is to go by Jordan Peterson’s advice: “Act so that you can tell the truth about how you act.” If I do things that I am proud of and act in a way that is becoming of myself, being honest is as easy as pie.
  4. The hard truths are the ones that get you. The times when you are questioned about your opinions that go against the grain, when you believe someone is wrong, or you think she looks fat in her dress are the times that are the most difficult. I am still working on how to tell these truths and not hurt the person’s feelings. My gut feeling is for things like “Do I look fat in this?” the right path is to not put yourself in the situation in the first place. However, that is a challenge in its own right.
  5. People respect honesty. Anytime I have ever told the truth in the face of adversity, I am praised for it by the people who actually matter. Sure, I have lost a few acquaintances over the years, but the people who truly matter respect that I have stood my ground and are happy to call me a friend or business partner.
  6. Taking responsibility is rare and necessary. As I have been on this journey, I have noticed that almost no one around me takes actual responsibility for their actions. They always tend to blame some external factor or someone else. Now, when I notice someone who actually takes responsibility for something I respect that person and favor them when it comes to business and friendship. My gut feeling is taking responsibility will be a major factor to my success moving forward.
  7. Letting go of the outcome of truth is one of the most difficult things I have ever tried to do. By default, I care about people’s feelings. I can’t help it. Telling the truth exclusively and unapologetically requires me to let go of whatever the outcome of my truth is and accept it. I have a lot of trouble accepting that I may hurt someones feels or that they may not like me.

Call to Action

Sticking with the honesty theme…. I have had more trouble always telling the truth than I would have ever imagined. Telling the truth is such a simple action and, honestly, is one that I thought I was already a master of. However, I am not.

Don’t beat yourself up when you fail. I am a failing machine. That being said, these five tips have helped me along the way. Feel free to steal them and evolve them to fit your needs.

  1. Watch this video on the truth by Jordan Peterson anytime you have trouble.
  2. Start with recognizing where you are telling the white lies in your life. You don’t have to change them. The first, and hardest, step is recognizing them.
  3. Start small and build confidence. Start with removing a lie that you have no reason to tell, but you tell it anyway.
  4. Don’t let frustration get the best of you. I am bad about getting down on myself if I slip up. Don’t do that. Recognize the mistake, identify how you can fix it, and move on. Trust me fucking up happens to everyone. You are not alone.
  5. Get a little better everyday. Hell, telling the truth is one of my life rules and I fuck it up continuously. Just take baby steps.
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