Our efforts to make positive change for ourselves, as well as our intent and desire to grow is significantly enhanced by our being or learning to become, as my father would say, “ruthlessly honest” with ourselves. This means raising our level of personal honesty. Personal honesty is a commitment to being ruthlessly honest, period. That means with one’s self and others. It includes the understanding that one may be untruthful and unaware of it. Personal growth requires, and spiritual growth even more, that we cease glossing over our reactions and actions in life. To do this requires honesty and something we will get to in another essay, personal responsibility.
To be honest we must pay attention to our thoughts and choices rather than ignore or lie to ourselves about them. There may be times in life when one should move on from the past; however, this is different than ignoring them, not only this does not resolve our issues or mental barriers we are trying to deny their existence or hoping they go away.
Honesty, like responsibility, is critical for spiritual development because one cannot get past their rational mind programming without it. We will remain locked into this programming unless we start to examine what we say, what we think, what we feel and how we act in more detail, moment by moment. We all should accept that what we think and know may not be true, and work to notice when we are not being honest and examine why. It is not likely that you will figure it out right away, however, if you do not look into it you never will.
Every thought we have, which includes those behind the actions, will create a vibration. The vibrations of our thoughts interact with each other, our own energy and the natural energies around us. In a manner of speaking, when these vibrations are in harmony and balance they are constructive and destructive where they are not. Continuing with the analogy, we get destructive or negative energy when we are untruthful. Destructive interference leads to the development of negative energies in our aura and barriers in the rational mind.
If one is serious about personal growth, developing a high level of honesty is important. Issues of honesty can be subtle, and often missed. For example, when someone asks others how they are feeling the typical response is “good”, “fine”, “okay” or something similar. Any of of these may very well be passable as a description; it does not make it the truth. Regardless of whether this answer is a fair or even adequate assessment of how they are more or less doing, it is not likely that the answer is an honest one; though maybe not for the reason you think.
We justify this answer many ways; we may feel they do not care so we do not share, we may have reasons we do not want to share, we do not want to think about how we feel in the moment, we deem it none of their business or for any one of a number of other reasons. However, the dishonesty to which I am referring is internal to us. When the answer given aloud is a generality, it is likely that applies to the answer given internally. Given a generality is not a truth it follows, in the strictest sense that a generality cannot be honest unless you can be specific and have simply chosen not to share it. When asked such a question one should be aware of how they feel, and not in some vague manner. They should be able to articulate all the emotions they feel, at least to themselves, if they are a little tired, perhaps annoyed by a minor event, partially cheerful and excited, are also feeling a little distracted or devoted to some purpose and so forth.
Without an active awareness, one may notice significant emotional changes while missing subtle ones. Have you ever felt uncomfortable but do not know why? Can you even describe what you are feeling? It is your mind and they are your emotions, you should know what your think and why you feel as you do.
You may be curious about how we lose control of our honesty. Well, it occurs gradually and starts the moment we are born. It is common knowledge that children are very capable of telling you just how they feel or what they think right in the moment; provided they do not feel threatened by how others might react to what they say. This speaks to the important aspect regarding personal honesty.
Life changes our natural honesty. We gradually learn that the personal truth is subjective, and that we can lie to others when it serves our purpose, benefits us in some way or minimizes potential harm. Over time, experiences program our rational mind to respond based on its perception of risk and we lose our childhood honesty. Some would call it the end of our innocence.
We lie to ourselves to avoid examining our thoughts and feelings or do anything about them. Perhaps we felt no one cared, or no one could do anything to help us with our feelings or it did not matter to them, that they were selfish, or we were hurting. Regardless of the reason, over time, we lose our openness and our honesty goes with it.
Personal honesty takes time to achieve, and when fully manifest in one’s life leads to:
- Knowing/admitting how I am feeling and why (not just how I think I am feeling or would like to think I feel).
- Knowing/admitting that I act a certain way and why
- Knowing/admitting that I react in certain ways and why
- Knowing/admitting that I do certain “things” and why
We do not have to share our awareness of ourselves with others; however, if we are honest we must be truthful when we do. Personal honesty is a requirement for growth, indeed for life in general, because it is a tool to help us know ourselves better. This leads to greater awareness and personal power, the kind one needs to continue on the path they have chosen. Otherwise, we are imagining ourselves to be someone we are not. If we do not know who we are, we are likely to work on the wrong areas, or issues at the wrong time, and we will encounter unnecessary setbacks. This increases our burden and the length of our journey.
When it comes to personal honesty, we must be careful we do not fool ourselves into thinking we simply choose not to say to others what we do or feel and still believe we know ourselves. It is also dishonest to mislead others or knowingly let them infer something that is not the case. Both of these statements are true, except in the most exceptional cases.
It is true that we do not have to share information about ourselves. However, this can be a crutch that allows us to convince ourselves that if no one asks directly we are not hiding. However, who can say this? We often do not share facts because either we fear the results of doing so or we do not even know ourselves. Learning to accept “facts” about ourselves enables us to grow past them, indeed it is unlikely we will grow without doing so. We can learn to face ourselves in the calm light of truth, without passing judgment on our mistakes regardless of whether others do.
Look at the following illustration:
Example A: Shortest path
Example B: Lengthened Path
Example A represents the ideal; in this case, people who know themselves well. We know where we are and can see what we need to do to be where we would like to be. Mind you, our minds and awareness with almost innumerable variables are almost impossibly complex. We lack a great deal of knowledge about ourselves; this makes determining starting point extremely difficult. By starting point, I mean a sense of where you are at a particular moment in time. This assessment includes how honest are you in your life, what are your strengths, weaknesses, what kind of person you are, you degree of awareness of your sensitivity, what kinds of issues do you face and so forth.
This assessment will be a continual process as we change moment by moment, with our experiences the key to unlocking our inner self. This means we need to pay attention to what is happening around us now to help us know which issues and problems to examine and to work on. The closer you are to knowing who you are “right now” the better. The more we lie to ourselves, the further we are from knowing ourselves, the further we have to go to get to where we want to be. We end up fighting ourselves.
Our honesty affects our choices, and if we are lying to ourselves then we are not where we think we are. Not being where we think we are means we can make choices that take us further away from our goal. Consider if you are lost and in a strange city. If you do not realize you are lost, you are not likely to get to where you are going just randomly driving around. Some choices can put you further away. To get to your destination you would first need to admit you are lost and then realize you need directions.
Make no mistake; the starting point or your initial coordinates are where you “really are”. To be clear, where you “really are” does not include where you feel, think or believe you are, nor where you would like to be. When you start to take stock, pretty much everything about us is relevant. This includes little things such as acts or things we like or dislike such as doing the dishes, or chores, cannot stand mousy people, enjoy aggressive sports, and dislike cats, snow or certain kinds of furniture. These seemingly innocent or minor personality traits are usually the result of how our minds integrated experiences, and we have accepted these at face value. How often have we heard the phrase - I am what I am. For anyone serious about growth the reality is we are whom we have chosen to be by way of how we integrated our experiences.
There is in fact nothing inherently right or wrong with any of the traits I mentioned. The acts themselves are neither “right nor wrong”; however, acting out of need rather than preference also creates lower energy in our aura. We will examine this in the essay on Preference versus Need. Further, there are responsibilities and consequences attached to our actions. When we accept these aspects of ourselves, which reduces our fears, our vision starts to clear up. In such moments of honesty, we are more likely to perceive the reasons for why we feel certain ways about various things. This reduces the barriers we created and provides additional clues to our mental makeup, both of which help us in our efforts.
This brings us to Example B. In personal growth, our lack of honesty about where we are to ourselves makes for more work. The amount of extra work depends on how poorly you determine where you are, extra years of effort are common. Years can become decades if you are far enough off. A lack of success can lead one to give up trying. Remember, you can lie to yourself if you choose, but there is a price. We make our path harder and longer when we are not where we think we are.
We must accept that our dishonesty is ours, and make a decision to improve it. Yet it can be very difficult to change what we do not understand and do not own. The first step in working on improving our honesty, besides just telling the truth more often, is to start to understand our reasons for our lack of honesty. We do this by identifying areas where we have difficulty in telling the truth without judging ourselves as bad people while we are working through the process.
Degree of honesty
This section deals with the topic of personal honesty with the purpose of helping you to identify your personal honesty issues. Honesty is the cornerstone of personal growth. We will approach it in a different way, one we may have done in part previously but likely have not taken to completion. Bear in mind that honesty, for growth purposes, is not a measure against some absolute truth; we measure it against our awareness of our truths. The starting point is dealing with lies we know about. We will get at un-truths hidden within our rational mind by resolving the ones we are aware of first. Our success in the little battles reduces our minds fear of change, this fear is our a big part of our resistance to it.
If you think about your honesty in general terms, you will notice that your degree of honesty depends on the nature of the topic, who we are speaking with and the nature of the experience or situation. Our honesty with people very closely mirrors our relationship with them. We speak freely about topics with some people and not others and with some may even exaggerate or further, lie. Therefore, it is of great value to examine our honesty based on the relationships between areas where we have issues across the spectrum of relationships types.
First, we will define a hierarchy of types or levels of relationships. The list below contains the main levels of relationships that can affect our honesty. The levels vary with the degree of closeness to us that exists in the relationship. The degrees range from people we meet once and will never see again to our closest relationships, the one we have with ourselves. The ordering of points 2 to 4 or 5 to 7 can vary depending on our history. The order I have used is simply a general hierarchy of most distant to closest relationships and has no bearing on how we will use our self-assessment. Do note that if you cannot identify anyone in your life for any of the levels you can leave it blank or substitute a different type of relationship, one with a similar level of closeness.
If you spend a great deal of time on the internet, you might want to include online relationships, such as those you have from us of social media tools, as a level. If you do so include a level for anonymous online activity. Another example would be to include a particular person or group of people to work on any honesty issues you may have with them in particular. If you do add to the list try hard to not make it too long. We can break things down to the nth degree; however, more is not always better.
The Levels or Relationships of our Honesty Table are:
- To people we do not know and will never see again
- To people we are acquainted with
- To people we work with
- To our friends
- To our intimate or close relationships
- To our family
- To our spouse or significant other
- To ourselves
The next step is to create a list representing areas where we are going to evaluate our level of honesty. These are all personal in nature. Again, you can add to the list if there are aspects of yourself that needs examining or are ones you are working on. Include areas where you believe you are honest as well as we cannot assume that just because we think we are totally honesty in area that we actually are. Our lives will show us what we need to be doing today; we need to learn how to listen. When you create your list try to pick areas related to the issues that you are dealing "now".
Some examples of fundamental Areas of Honesty are:
- Our intelligence (do we pretend we are either smarter or less smart than we feel we are)
- How knowledgeable we are about various topics
- Our job (do we make our jobs appear better than they are?)
- Our job skills (making ourselves look great at what we do, saying how good we are...better than others)
- Our love life (a big issue for men is their virility, their ability to attract any women)
- Our sexual orientation
- Our personal habits (you can pick one or look at them in general)
- Our religious beliefs or lack thereof
- Who we care about
- Our history or background
- Our feelings
- Our wealth or what we own (cars, boats etc.)
- Our behavior
- What we think and believe
There are times when we would prefer not to tell the truth. We may not want certain people to know about some aspects of ourselves for fear of how they would take the truth and the consequences of being honesty whether real or imagined. Not telling people what is going on in your life is not an issue, the only issue would be allowing them to believe something that is not the case or if you are also lying to yourself. If you feel others do not need to know something then do not share; however, do not tell a lie to cover or deflect them from the truth. The reality is you cannot control what they think about you, and any judgments they have of you are their issue not yours.
We may feel others may not like us if they knew the truth or that our honesty could cause problems we are not ready to deal with. While under certain circumstances it may appear to be advantageous to lie, it is not in our best interests. We are only building walls and deeper holes for ourselves. Further, when it comes to people who are closer to us, we should be asking ourselves why we would want someone we have to lie to as a friend.
The truth is that when we lie we are not being true to ourselves, period. At some point in the growth cycle, we must examine our fears of the truth. Without doing this we will not give up the lies. Of course, part of the problem is memory is not a fixed or rigid “thing”, so we do not always know why we feel as we do nor if what we are saying is even the truth. I can only say that by working on being honest we find out about aspects of ourselves we never noticed before and with work, these too will fade away. Take it one-step and issue at a time and have faith in yourself!
One important tool in our arsenal for improving our honesty is the importance of feedback from without. We need to pay attention to notice consequences we can directly attribute to our dishonesty, such as people being hurt by our lying. In addition, criticism from others however unjustified may have some kernels of truth in them.
We should not simply ignore criticism or get angry at whoever is criticizing us. Ignoring criticism is, like an emotional response, a clear indication of a personal issue. We do not need to accept they are right, only that it is possible they are right. We then should contemplate the possibility with as much honesty as we can muster. If there is any truth in what others say, we shall not find it by denial or responding emotionally. By examining the experience, we learn about the interaction, about our part in it. This can lead us to see that we may be the way others perceive us to be, and if we do not get down on ourselves we create opportunity for growth. Losing, even reducing our fears around personal honesty, provide opportunity to explore the growth area with less resistance. This helps us to see ourselves a little more clearly.
When someone points the finger at you do not point yours back. This reduces you to their level and robs you of the opportunity to grow through the experience. What others say is a subjective view, based on how they see the world. Of course they could be wrong, could be mistaken in their interpretation or what they are saying may not be what we are working on at that time. This does not mean we should simply discount their opinion or push back with counter claims or negative comments.
People often react to aspects of us we do not notice in ourselves, ones that may point out other areas of growth. There are many reasons we may not see them, such as we do not want to think about it, we do not like that aspect of ourselves or it runs contrary to our opinion of ourselves. This is the result of our rational minds programming. Remember we attract what we put out. This means that if we have negativity in us, we will attract it to us. Fortunately, it also means that if we put out for answers life will provide them, though not necessarily in a straightforward way. We must learn to broaden our scope by noticing the opportunities life presents to us so we can learn and grow. A less reactive and open mind is a key to helping you grow personally and spiritually.
A note of caution, do not ask for too much honesty at once. Ask for a level of honesty that is manageable. If you ask you just might receive, and unless you are ready for the consequences of a high level of honesty do not ask for it.
How to determine our level of honesty
At first, you may find it challenging to determine your level of honesty. This is natural. We will start with a process to or method of assessing our level of honesty. We will also examine using other aspects of our awareness to help us in working our honesty in later sections. In the beginning, I would advise you to keep this personal and private. It reduces fears associated with sharing deeply personal information, and makes it easier for you to look within, for this is where the answers lie.
To look at our honesty with different people and aspects of ourselves we will use the Degrees of Honesty listed below and assign values to the degrees. This will help you get an idea of where you are in the various areas or levels. For example how honest are you about your personal history when you speak to someone at work, perhaps it is higher than when you do not know the person and may never see them again. By cross-referencing levels of honesty with areas by using degrees of honesty, we get a clearer idea of where we have issues with honesty. We will use an Honesty Table to help us do this.
In the Honesty Table relationships are listed as the rows, and areas of honesty as the columns. The values we will place in the table, at the intersection of a row and column is the Degrees of Honesty associated with them. We determine our degree of honesty for each combination of relationship and topic or issue by our answer to the question – “how often I am honest in a particular area based on the relationship level I have with the person I’m speaking to”.
A little later, when you work on your Honesty Table, you will use the values in the below list to represent your degrees of honesty. You will notice the highest and lowest values possible, “always” and “never” respectively, come with the qualifier that one is always or never honest without exception. You should only use these values if the qualifier is true, anything else would be dishonest.
Values for Degrees of Honesty:
- never (0) * means never ever without exception
- rarely (1)
- on occasion (2)
- half the time (3)
- usually (4)
- nearly always (5)
- always (6) * means always without exception
Obviously, when you go through this exercise you need to be as honest as you can. This may sound simple; however, unless you have approached it casually or superficially, you will likely find being honest more challenging than expected. By working on your honesty and doing this exercise periodically, you will discover insights into yourself. The numbers in the honesty table will change based on how you change over time. This will help in discerning more about yourself, to know where you are being successful and to be more aware of what you need to work on.
During the process, make sure you give yourself little pats on the back for progress made and do not chastise yourself for perceived failures. We are who we are and we are where we are and should accept that everyone has challenges of personal honesty whether they are working on it or not. When we are able to make change, have the personal power to do so, we will, not before. Do not forget if you cannot admit the problem, you are handcuffing your efforts to change it, likely making it impossible until you do.
We have touched on how we lose our honesty, that it is during our early childhood that we start to learn the intricacies of lying. We do not lie because we want to, or consciously choose to. We lie because experiences teach us to, though each of us has our own reasons or justifications for them. Children quickly learn that adults do not tell the truth, they may not know what the truth is or even understand it; however, they do know when they are not hearing it. This reinforces that lying is acceptable, as is obvious from today’s world. Acceptable does not mean it is good, or right. It means that most people see it as simply another part of the way things work in real life. Our acceptance that some lies are okay programs our rational mind that dishonesty has its place. Each of us will manifest this differently.
There is section of a book I remember, “The Inner Life” by C.W. Leadbeater of the Theosophical Society, where he says that we do what we do out of ignorance; and goes onto say that people who do “wrong” do so out of their own ignorance. We cannot say, “You should know better because you have been told 'its' wrong” because people only do better when they KNOW it is “wrong”. You do not put your hand on a hot stove because you KNOW the consequences, the consequences of our lack of honesty are very hard to quantify.
We are unlikely to notice the consequences of our lies if no one can prove us “wrong” or if we are not caught by our lies or doing something “wrong”. In life, we may tell people something is not right, beneficial or correct; however, until they know it for themselves or are ready to hear it they will remain ignorant about it. This is true even though to us it may seem obvious that what someone is doing is not beneficial or in their best interests.
Our rational mind’s programming goes deep, and over time becomes stronger, more rigid. Changing our programming requires we be aware that it needs to be changed, have the desire to change it, as well as some idea of how the rational mind works so that we are correcting problems not adding more. We have discussed these ideas, and now it is up to individuals to take the first steps towards honesty.
This journey begins with the identification of the problems we need to correct. Use the Honesty Table to help focus your attention on your own level of honesty so you become familiar with the areas where you have challenges. Examining the areas where honesty is an issue will tell you a great deal about yourself, more so than those areas where we do not. We grow stronger every single time we work past an honesty issue. Actions such as these are very empowering.
As I have stated, the primary reasons for lack of honesty is from how our rational mind learns through its experiences. We hide behind lies for personal protection, to gain advantage or to keep ourselves from getting hurt; not realizing the hurt from the lie itself is far greater in the long term than the short-term protection we believe it provides. Unfortunately, we humans are short sighted. We feel a certain way now, and try to remove or get away from discomfort, often without proper forethought of the consequences. Quite obviously, there is danger in this beyond the fact that we can forget the truth or we can end up removing one issue and creating another.
Try to be kinder and little more honest at least with yourself. Do not try to stop all lying at once; this can be very painful in the short term. Instead, work on it in areas where you feel you can succeed no matter how small. Do so with yourself since you are not telling anyone else your secrets should be safe with you.
Build on small successes, and do not concern yourself with the honesty of others, as most people have not taken the time to do this. They continue to lie out of fear and weakness. They do not understanding the confidence, strength and personal power that can be achieved through delving into our own personal honesty and our truths.
Obviously when we lie, we are not presenting our true self to others or to ourselves. Besides the obvious negative impact of lying and the karmic consequences, there are other problems associated with it. We have quite literally different faces for every different level of honesty. We may choose to lie to protect information that we feel is personal and sensitive, information others could use against us. Everyone has been hurt or felt betrayed by others at some point in their lives. This leads to distrust, and we can get the lies mixed up, telling different versions and the story changes over time. I am sure everyone is aware of the kinds of problems that can arise from doing such things. Studies have shown that the lies we tell ourselves eventually become our truths. On the other end of the spectrum we can be too honest with others, though this an entirely different challenge. In this case it is a matter of developing the wisdom of knowing when to speak and what to say and also when not to speak
When our lies become habitual the consequence is that, at the conscious level, we no longer know what the truth is. Let us put the significant spiritual issues or karma of lying aside for the moment and simply look at its impact on our lives. At the low end of the scale, dishonesty can be embarrassing or lead to uncomfortable situations, at the upper end, it can have devastating consequences. Often we have a mistaken perception of the consequences of honesty and choose to lie instead. We is because our minds are typically looking more at risks than rewards. By risks I am referring to outcomes that we find negative such as punishment, that people might not like what I say, it will just blow up into a big messy situation or will cost us in some fashion. The result is that our lives can become a mountain of lies, and the fear of the consequences of telling the truth can appear even more devastating than the consequences themselves.
The best path is to tell the truth, and examine your issues at those times when you feel you cannot or should not tell the truth. If you do tell the truth, you never have to get your story straight or worry about someone or something exposing the lie. This also applies to “little white lies”. The reason most often given for these lies is to protect someone from words that might hurt them; however, part of the reason is also to enjoy the side benefit of our not having to deal with the reality at that moment. By working on ones honesty and daring to learn why we are not, we are reshaping the way our rational mind works in a highly beneficial way.
The Honesty Table: Improving Your Honesty Level
Absolute personal honesty is, as I have stated, of vital importance. Naturally we cannot become one hundred percent honest (if we were that close to who we really are we likely would not need to be here), but we are more likely to improve if we aim high rather than low. I will also say that learning to be completely honest has its price (relatively speaking). The price you pay can be in terms of relationships, friendships, family or your job, though in many cases the fears we have over the consequences of being honest are misplaced.
There are a great many more people who live by their untruths than not. Do not concern yourself with what others are doing or not doing. Realize there are often unspoken rules about the truth, ones set up by people who have a stake in maintaining their walls and barriers. Adjustments to your honesty level will affect your relationships with these types of people the most.
What we are doing here is relearning to live in truth. It is not a simple task; in fact, it is one of the hardest. Our honesty has a history, for each area there is be a birthplace and time and other experiences that reinforced or changed it. Our attempts to modify our honesty in the present can come up against old walls and a maze of contributing factors. The maze is the result of how entangled our thoughts and beliefs, hence our lies become. It is exceedingly rare that a lie stands alone. Typically, they develop webs of dependencies on each other. We all know, or most of us do, how one lie can lead to another. What makes working on our honesty a real challenge is the walls can be very tall, and the maze daunting. To move forward we almost invariably have to go at them from a number of directions. Our honesty is one tool; we will look at others that will assist you in finding ways to grow past your barriers.
During the process of developing a higher degree of honesty, we come across many occurrences where we may feel that we are being honest; however, others are misinterpreting us. In this case, we may indeed be honest unless we are misleading someone, or allowing untruths to stand. Inferring or knowingly leaving an untruth to stand is being dishonest. There is no excuse, save our own ignorance, for partial truths.
Honesty is difficult to achieve. When we get angry, hurt or scared we often say things we do not mean, exaggerate or lie to protect our feelings. None of these justify lying. See your reasons as something to understand, something you can change rather than rely on excuses. The impetus is on each of us to work to become more honest, not as an end in itself, rather as part of the process of growing. We are better able to admit our frailties and our own problems when we have accepted them as truths about ourselves. We cannot deal with or change ourselves until we do.
Being honest - A Process to Review Thoughts and Change Them
Level of Spiritual Awareness related to honesty and personal responsibility
© 2009 Allan Beveridge
Last Updated January 20, 2018