Why Be Honest?
Helpful facts that young people want to know
“TO BE honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.” So wrote William Shakespeare over three hundred years ago. Since then the public’s respect for honesty and its worth has shown no real improvement. As you likely know, this is true also among young people. Why is such a low value placed on honesty?
Most people today do not think it makes sense to tell the truth all the time. Many businessmen claim they could not compete successfully without some dishonesty. Daily, advertisements come into our view that exaggerate or misrepresent. Though political leaders bear the serious charge of watching over the public’s general welfare, most people view their word as often untrustworthy.
Seeing so much dishonesty among adults, young people often adopt the same course. In school, many cheat at tests or cut classes under false pretenses. With friends, they may boast, brag and otherwise paint false pictures of what they are or have done. At home, they may even deceive their parents—answering questions about their conduct with half-truths, hiding the facts by phrasing their answer so it gives an entirely different impression from the true one. If their parents, or others rightly concerned about their welfare, try to find out how they feel about immorality or drugs or similar things, they may give them “a snow job” to cover over the facts, saying what they think those questioning them want to hear, not necessarily the truth of how they really feel. To get money or permission to do something, they may “butter up” a parent with insincere affection or with flattery.—Compare Psalm 55:21.
Strange, really, that so many young people today insist they want people to ‘tell it to them like it is,’ when they themselves spend so much time ‘telling it like it isn’t.’ Yet many feel they are justified in doing this. Why? Well, it is true that their parents may teach them it is wrong to lie. Yet they may see their parents themselves misrepresent facts in order to get out of some unpleasant situation or to avoid paying some bill, debt or tax. Some parents even use their children to falsify for them in giving excuses.
Where conditions like this prevail, what encouragement is there for young people—or for any of us—to strive to be honest in all things? In a world where lying and cheating are so common, how practical and worthwhile is it for you to hold to what is true? Will it really bring you greater benefit than dishonesty would, and, if so, what kind of benefit?
SHORT-TERM VERSUS LONG-TERM BENEFITS
Ask yourself: What do I want—a quick momentary advantage, an apparent benefit, or that which brings benefits that are enduring? Any apparent benefits from lying and cheating are short term at best. Take, as an example, a businessman who misrepresents some product. He may make a sale, true, but in the process he may lose a customer when the person finds out he was cheated. Or, suppose you were to cheat in school. If not caught, you might get higher grades. But what good would even “straight A’s” be if you finish school with very little knowledge? Why waste those years in school when you could use them to learn things that can prove valuable in later life?
In the end, then, the person who cheats actually cheats himself most of all. (Compare Proverbs 20:17.) Consider some of the things the dishonest person stands to lose and you will see why anyone who thinks that dishonesty helps toward a better or happier life is really very shortsighted indeed.
If you are known for being straightforward and honest in your dealings, you earn the respect and trust of others. The friends you draw are more likely to be genuine because they find you genuine and appreciate this. While it is true that the modern business world is often dishonest, it is also true that employers generally have enough sense to value employees who are honest. They are more willing to entrust greater responsibility to them. A reputation for honesty, then, can bring employment when employment is scarce or aid in holding on to a job when others are losing theirs. At home, honesty contributes to a comfortable, pleasant atmosphere, eliminating doubts or suspicions between marriage partners and between parents and children. (Ps. 34:13, 14) Where children by this honesty win their parents’ full confidence, the parents usually are willing gradually to widen their area of freedom. Granted, telling the truth about some mistake or wrong act can bring discipline. But that discipline may well be lighter because you were honest. And if, in the future, you truthfully deny having done some wrong, your explanation is more likely to be believed.
Contrast this with the person who gives in to dishonesty to “get out of a pinch” or to gain some advantage. He risks losing all these fine benefits. Because dealing with a dishonest person is like riding in a car with a steering defect—you never know just what it may do. So realize that when you lie to someone or cheat him, the distrust you create may take years to erase. Where a parent or a friend is involved, the wound caused may heal but may leave a bad memory that is like a long-lasting scar. If you make a practice of dishonesty, the time may well come when you seriously want and need others to believe and trust you but they will feel they cannot. (Compare Proverbs 10:9; 17:20.) Is any temporary advantage that dishonesty brings worth this?
WHAT BRINGS GREATER FREEDOM AND HAPPINESS?
Does dishonesty bring greater freedom? Some think so because they see it as an easy way out of unpleasant situations or restrictions. But, actually, lying is like wading into quicksand. Each lie calls for others to back it up, and one soon finds oneself enmeshed in a vicious cycle. (Prov. 12:13) Lying often gets started as does gambling. The person gambling begins betting small amounts, but—usually to cover some losses—he gradually gets drawn into making bigger and bigger bets. Those who lie often begin with half-truths and “little lies,” then gradually go on to worse ones.
If you lie to others, you generally wind up lying to yourself. You can begin to live a lie, making yourself think you are something you are not and that your life is really far better and happier than it honestly is. You can convince yourself of being very smart and wise, while really knowing very little. False reasoning helps to justify “pulling a fast one” or “feeding someone a line” with the idea that, after all, you are just getting what rightfully should be yours anyway, as something owed to you. Sooner or later, however, the person doing this meets up with circumstances that force him to face up to reality. He may then feel shocked to see himself as he really is, realizing what a fake his life has been—like a building with nothing but slippery sand as a foundation.—Compare Matthew 7:26, 27; Psalm 36:2.
To tell falsehoods with a straight face may seem bold, daring, and some train themselves to look another straight in the eye while lying. But lying is actually cowardly rather than courageous. What takes courage is to tell the truth and face up to whatever consequences that brings. Rather than imply strength, a lie is like a weak cripple, unable to stand on its own, needing other lies to hold it up, never willing to meet the truth face to face. Why, then, be like a person who spends his life wearing a false face, hiding, ducking and making excuses? Why be like Judas Iscariot, who became a cheat, tried to lead a double life and wound up a failure and a suicide? (John 12:4-6; Matt. 27:3-5) Why not be man or woman enough to be honest? It is the only way to maintain self-respect and a good conscience.
This points to the most important factor of all: God’s good will and approval. Jehovah God approves only those who worship him “with spirit and truth,” and his Son said that genuine freedom comes only with truth. (John 4:23, 24; 8:31, 32) Jehovah detests lying in all its forms—deception, boasting, slander, cheating—because it springs from selfishness, greed and a callous unconcern for the interests of others. (Prov. 6:16, 17; 11:1; Ps. 5:5, 6; 15:1-3) He knows that all mankind’s troubles and suffering originally stem from lying—on the part of the “father of the lie,” Satan, God’s principal enemy. (Gen. 3:1-5; John 8:44) God’s Word rightly associates lying with stealing, adultery and other serious wrongs because—either directly or indirectly—practically every kind of wrongdoing gets its start with or involves some form of dishonesty.—Hos. 4:1, 2; Rom. 1:24-32; Rev. 21:8.
Do you sincerely want to hold faithfully to a course of honesty? Then you should realize that you cannot resist severe temptations to dishonesty just by mentally accepting honesty as “the best policy.” More is needed. Only genuine love for your Creator and for your neighbor can give you the motivation you need. There must be a heartfelt love of truth for the good it does and an equally intense hatred of lying for the harm it does. (Prov. 4:23, 24) God’s approval, too, must mean more to you than that of any other person. Remember, it is only because He himself loves the truth and hates lying that we can have a solid hope for the future, based on His unfailing promises and the proved reliability of His Word.—Compare Joshua 23:14; Hebrews 6:18, 19.
See to it, too, that your friends are lovers of truth. So-called “friends” who lie and cheat others would do the same to you if the situation made it seem worthwhile. Read King David’s words as recorded at Psalm 101:5-7 and make his standards for friendship your own. Yes, remember that “it is the lip of truth that will be firmly established forever, but the tongue of falsehood will be only as long as a moment.”—Prov. 12:19.