Provision #361: Honesty is the Best Policy

Laser Provision

Hopefully you heard this one at an early age: Do not lie! Speak and act truthfully! This is such a universal core value that it can’t be expressed strongly enough. And yet we all fail to measure up at different times and for different reasons. In your personal and professional life, this Provision will bolster your honesty, integrity, and truthfulness.

LifeTrek Provision

Of the many tragedies surrounding the prisoner abuse spectacle at the Abu Ghraib detention facility in Iraq, one of the less publicized but no less significant developments has to do with the treatment of the whistle-blowers. Here are highlights of two stories on the inner pages of the newspaper from just the past week:

  • A U.S. Army military intelligence soldier who spoke publicly about the alleged abuse lost his top-secret security clearance and had his record “flagged” • an administrative action similar to a suspension that usually happens to those who are overweight or fail physical training tests • which means he is ineligible for promotion or honors. “I feel like I’m being punished for telling the truth,” the Sergeant said, adding that he was ordered to remain silent about the investigation. “I don’t regret it. I want people to understand what happened.”
  • A U.S. Army Specialist, who tipped off superiors to the abuses at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, is concerned about his ability to go back home. Although praised by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for his “honorable actions,” the people in his hometown are in no mood to celebrate. “If I were him, I’d be sneaking in through the back door at midnight,” said one area resident. “I’m proud of what he did,” said one family member, “but I’m worried about his safety and the repercussions.”

What’s going on here is no surprise. Whistle-blowers • those who reveal wrongdoing within an organization to the public or to those in positions of authority • have long needed the force of law in order to protect them against recrimination, even when they are reporting such blatant abuses as those that took place in Iraq. But behind the whistle-blower protections lies an important value that needs to be at the core not only of every individual, but of every society:

Honesty • just like your mother used to tell you • really is the best policy. Even when it hurts. Even when it implicates those we know and love. Even when it shatters trust and requires painful conversations. Even when it costs money or reputation. Honesty is still the best policy.

Unfortunately, as recognized by the Parliament of the World’s Religions and cultures in Chicago in 1993, this core value goes neglected around the globe. People are more prone to do what they can get away with than to hold themselves and others to the high standard of honesty, integrity, and truthfulness.

“All over the world,” the Parliament observed, “we find endless lies and deceit, swindling and hypocrisy, ideology and demagoguery:

  • Politicians and business people who use lies as a means to success;
  • Mass media which spread ideological propaganda instead of accurate reporting, misinformation instead of information, cynical commercial interest instead of loyalty to the truth;
  • Scientists and researchers who give themselves over to morally questionable ideological or political programs or to economic interest groups, or who justify research which violates fundamental ethical values;
  • Representatives of religions who dismiss other religions as of little value and who preach fanaticism and intolerance instead of respect and understanding.”

Given this state of affairs, which has not improved in the past 11 years, the Parliament reaffirmed one of the great ancient religious and ethical traditions of humankind: Do not lie! Or in positive terms: Speak and act truthfully! To put this in plain language, the Parliament declared that “no woman or man, no institution, no state or church or religious community has the right to speak lies to other humans.” They note that this is especially true:

  • “For those who work in the mass media, to whom we entrust the freedom to report for the sake of truth and to whom we thus grant the office of guardian. They do not stand above morality but have the obligation to respect human dignity, human rights, and fundamental values. They are duty-bound to objectivity, fairness, and the preservation of human dignity. They have no right to intrude into individuals’ private spheres, to manipulate public opinion, or to distort reality.”
  • “For artists, writers, and scientists, to whom we entrust artistic and academic freedom. They are not exempt from general ethical standards and must serve the truth.”
  • “For the leaders of countries, politicians, and political parties, to whom we entrust our own freedoms. When they lie in the faces of their people, when they manipulate the truth, or when they are guilty of venality or ruthlessness in domestic or foreign affairs, they forsake their credibility and deserve to lose their offices and their voters. Conversely, public opinion should support those politicians who dare to speak the truth to the people at all times.”
  • “For the representatives of religion. When they stir up prejudice, hatred, and enmity towards those of different belief, or even incite or legitimate religious wars, they deserve the condemnation of humankind and the loss of their adherents. Let no one be deceived: there is no global justice without truthfulness and humaneness!”

In order to develop a higher standard of honesty, integrity, and truthfulness in the world, the Parliament urged the formation of ethical values in young people at home and in school so that they might learn to think, speak, and act truthfully. This will assist them, they note, to not only be honest themselves but also to “discern when opinions are portrayed as facts, interests veiled, tendencies exaggerated, and facts twisted.”

As adults, the Parliament urged:

  1. That we “not confuse freedom with arbitrariness or pluralism with indifference to truth;”
  2. That we “cultivate truthfulness in all our relationships instead of dishonesty, dissembling, and opportunism;”
  3. That we “constantly seek truth and incorruptible sincerity instead of spreading ideological or partisan half-truths;” and
  4. That we “courageously serve the truth, remaining constant and trustworthy, instead of yielding to opportunistic accommodation to life.”

In other words, they argue for personal and professional integrity instead hustling our way through life. Doing whatever we can get away with does more harm to ourselves and to our world than we might imagine. Even when we appear to benefit, we suffer greatly. One thing has a way of leading to another, until the vary fabric of life is compromised.

Twenty-five years ago, in his seminal work The Road Less Traveled, psychotherapist M. Scott Peck identified “appropriating truth” as one of four disciplines that enable our lives to be healthy and our spirit to grow. This begins with dedication to reality. It does not help to pretend that life is not what it is. Yet most of us are content to live with outdated maps, ignoring or denouncing those who would seek to update our maps on the basis of new information or technology. We get set in our ways and resist any suggestion of change.

Once we dedicate ourselves to reality, even if reality challenges our accustomed ways of being and doing, appropriating truth continues with the honest communication of that reality to others. At the very least, Peck suggests that we adopt the practice of never making a statement that we know is false. This applies not only to the words we speak but also to how we speak them.

Peck also challenges us to become scrupulous in those gray areas where we speak some but not all of the truth. Withholding a portion of the truth can be just as misleading, and sometimes even more misleading, as speaking an outright lie. Because of the toll it takes, Peck urges us to always have good moral reasons for withholding the truth and to minimize the frequency with which it happens. To this end, Peck offers the following guidelines:

“The decision to withhold the truth should never be based on personal needs, such as a need for power, a need to be liked, or a need to protect one’s map from challenge. Conversely, the decision to withhold the truth must always be based entirely upon the needs of the person or people from whom the truth is being withheld. The assessment of another’s needs is an act of responsibility which is so complex that it can only be executed wisely when one operates with genuine love for the other.”

When applied this way, from the vantage point of love, honesty is always the best policy. That is when we discover of the age-old wisdom: the truth will set us free.

Coaching Inquiries: How strong is your commitment to the truth? What things do you fudge, and why? Are you a role model of integrity for those who know you? How could your commitment to the truth become more visible and compelling?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.

In your last Provision, you asked “What would it take to develop a relationship with someone who is different from you, perhaps even fearsome or offensive to you?” How about a paycheck? Isn’t that the pathway to tolerating a boss?! Slight sarcasm there, but only slight. Basically I can’t imagine a fearsome/offensive person unless it’s one who has some sort of power over me, and uses it brutally. Unfortunately, if there’s no specific reason (work, caretaking, etc.) for socializing with people we don’t agree with and like, it’s nearly impossible to sustain, in my experience. I wish I didn’t read so deeply into your “pep talk” messages! I like what they say • what they intend • but sometimes practicality (from experience) looms. Sometimes finding people with whom one has common ground is difficult enough!

It’s OK to tolerate differences, but not deliberate sins. God has made His rules and we are asked to follow Him if we want to spend eternity with Him. (Ed. Note: I would leave the policing of sins to religious communities, extending a wide berth of toleration in society at large.)

I’ll agree with the discussion of tolerance to the point that intolerance leading to hate is wrong. But we all live by moral absolutes that we have come to believe in, for example those based on God’s word. When we are well grounded in our morals, won’t there be conflict when someone else’s moral absolutes are different? This is why we have conflict regarding marriage today. Moral absolutes are the problem, not just intolerance. What bothers me about the religion of tolerance in today’s society is that to even express our differences in morals is branded intolerant, and thus disregarded. In turn, this leads to a lack of discussion in general. By my morals, I must share what is right. What I try to focus on is love, and remembering that to change someone I must convict their heart. Intolerance and hate will not make this happen. 

I’ve changed my email address. I hope this does not cause me to miss any of the helpful and thoughtful information that I’ve been blessed to received through Life Trek Coaching.  

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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