3 Steps to Real Honesty

Nobody actually wants to be a liar. But it’s just so easy to fudge, blur, omit, and recast information—on even everyday matters—for effect or self-protection. To inculcate honesty (in yourself and in others), think about values (“What kind of person do I want to be?”), not rules (“I should not …”). More pointers:

1. Own up. Honesty is more than not telling lies. It’s also about not extending your lunch hour, padding expenses, or picking up after your dog, and speaking up when someone is being treated unfairly.

2. Think of the children. In a recent survey of high school students, 64 percent reported cheating on a test; 30 percent, stealing from a store; and 83 percent, lying to their parents about something significant. At the same time, 93 percent said they were satisfied with their values. Huh? As a grown-up, you set the terms.

3. Accept, and vow to change. When you fall off the wagon and the moment has passed, at least be honest with yourself, as in “I didn’t do that right. When I’m in that situation again, I’m going to do better.” All of which may be easier to achieve if the accent is on simply doing what’s right instead of going by the book. When you’re rule-bound, you’re more likely to slip if you’re not likely to be caught. You’re honest when you do the right thing even when nobody is looking.

–Richard Jarc, executive director of the Josephson Institute, a nonprofit that promotes ethics

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