When you are honest, you speak the truth.

These words from Ryan Niemiec and Robert McGrath’s latest collaboration, The Power of Character Strengths, ring in my head following last week’s attack on Capitol Hill in Washington DC.

Honesty is a globally valued trait, and yet it seems woefully missing in many places. Omissions, half-truths, exaggerations, and outright lies poison our society. At one time or another, most of us have fallen into these patterns with consequences ranging from mild to serious.

It’s easy to point fingers at leaders and others who don’t seem concerned about facts, scientific data, or the opinions of experts. However, every one of us plays a role in living into truth.

At a time like this, we owe it to ourselves, our families, teams, communities, and country to value and demonstrate honesty. One thing we can all do is pause to check in on our own levels of truth, honesty, and integrity. The practice below will help you do this and spread honesty in different settings.

The Inspiration

Honest people do what they commit to do. For instance, I am committed to creating relevant content as life unfolds. This time of year, I’d normally write about starting the year strong, replacing an uninspiring resolution with an energizing daily practice, and sharing other topics that move you toward the things you want more of in life.

I wasn’t planning to write about honesty this week, but I couldn’t simply go about “business as usual” after the recent events. This change in my writing schedule caused a delay in connecting with you, yet this topic of truth feels urgent and relevant right now. My marketing professional and I both committed to pursuing this more authentic pathway, so here we are. Pursuing what seems right isn’t always easy, even in a basic example like this.

You’re probably already aware that honesty helps build trust and strong relationships, but perhaps you didn’t think about how it helps you correct errors in judgment, navigate decisions between what’s easy and what’s right, honor your commitments, and own your thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Perhaps most importantly:

“…freedom is the bonus you receive for telling the truth.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

To connect the dots: honesty cultivates truth, which leads to freedom. Doesn’t that sound about right?

In the scientific Character Strengths and Virtues framework, honesty is one of 4 character strengths within the courage virtue. Indeed, the simple act of being honest and speaking the truth is often one of the most difficult and courageous things you can do. Like when speaking out against injustice or standing up to a leader or unpopular opinion.

One challenging thing about honesty is it seems there are degrees of it and no clear guidelines around when it’s acceptable to shade the truth. For instance, do you need to be so direct when doing so would deeply hurt someone’s feelings without providing any benefit? Perhaps not, depending on the situation.

This week’s practice focuses on checking in with yourself and your own levels of honesty, integrity, and authenticity. Experiment with the prompts below to identify where you’re satisfied and where you’re not. Then, take a step that enables you to spread honesty.

The Practice

  1. On a scale of 1-5, where 1 = virtually never and 5 = virtually always, how often do you:
    • Speak the truth to power?
    • Model honesty to others?
    • Refrain from fibbing, even when it suits your purposes to shade the truth?
  2. Focus on the question with the highest score. How or with whom can you speak truth to power, model honesty, or refrain from fibbing even more often? Keep the spread of honesty going.
  3. Focus on the question with the lowest score and answer the following:
    • When, with whom, and in which situations do you struggle to express more honesty? Consider that your answer might vary in different situations involving your boss, subordinate, or team; a parent or family member; a sibling or friend.
    • Name one thing you can do to boost authenticity, honesty, or integrity in the situation you described above, and go out and try it. Perhaps you would speak more freely to your boss about the status of a project, demonstrate to your child a difficult but honest choice, or simply catch yourself being on the “wrong side” of the truth.

The Reflection

Valuing and demonstrating honesty more often might _____________________.

What might it change or improve? Perhaps a project, a partnership, or even the relationship you have with yourself.

With respect for truth,