“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” – Thomas Jefferson
In our modern society we do not hear very much about Honesty. Like all the old school virtues, honesty is felt by many to be irrelevant today because our modern generation believes (misguidedly) that they are smarter than everyone else and, like Nietzsche’s supermen; are therefore above good and evil.
They believe that they can live for the moment and take any immediate short term gain even if this means they constantly swing in their decisions and policy directions. Such people are happy to steal from the future in order to have some short term gain in the here and now.
Institutions and nations that are run with such a lack of principle are like houses built on shifting sands. They may look glorious in the short term but they are doomed to fail when a crisis strikes.
In contrast the old school values are timeless and evolved their wisdom over generations for a good reason. That reason is simple: a set of values give a leader a constant direction and an integrity that people respect. Like the pyramids their foundations are set deep into the bedrock of timeless values and will withstand anything fate may throw at the leader, even death itself.
People ALWAYS know where they stand with a person with honesty and integrity. They may not like or agree with you but they deserve to know where they stand. And they will respect you for that honesty.
Amoral people have no guiding principle that will give their lives a firm foundation in a crisis and having no foundation means that their leadership is doomed to be short lived. Without values they do not stand for anything and when the leader does not stand for anything they can never be respected.
All leaders should seek to be respected. It is the only way to a lasting legacy of advancing the institution you serve, the society in which you live and your own self worth.
There is only one way to attain that goal. That is to be constant in your resolve to be honest with everyone – including yourself.
Honesty does not mean that you have to brutal with the hopes and dreams of those around you – that is not honesty, that is cruelty. What being honest does mean is not deliberately misleading people, never misrepresenting situations and clearly stating to people what you can do and what you cannot do.
People know that there are limits to what can be done. They like to know what those limits are and where they fit into the bigger picture. If you imagine you were the target audience you are addressing – ask yourself what would you like to know and what is your moral duty to inform them?
Telling the truth has one other advantage over other approaches: you do not need to be constantly struggling to hide the lies and deceit of earlier actions.
Try being an honest person. Being able to look yourself deep in the eyes in the mirror is a wonderful feeling and knowing no matter who you meet there is nothing anyone can say about you is priceless.
“Treat those who are good with goodness, and also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained. Be honest to those who are honest, and be also honest to those who are not honest. Thus honesty is attained.” Lao Tzu