Creating a Culture of Honesty
I was at the gym today and noticed this headline on one of the national news channels:
“Epidemic of Dishonesty.”
It was referring to a commencement speech given by former New York governor, Michael Bloomberg (you can read the article here). Though he was specifically applying that phrase to politics, it got me thinking. What about the rest of us? Have we caught that epidemic? Do we live out and promote a ‘culture of honesty’ in our relationships, our circles, our churches?
I’m pretty sure all of us have lied at one time or other, probably many more times than we’d like to admit. Even those of us who highly value honesty succumb to the temptation to lie. Sometimes it’s to avoid uncomfortable situations, to save ourselves from embarrassment, or to protect ourselves from judgement or penalty. It’s human nature, but it’s also our sin nature to do so.
Like with any other sin, if we want to be able to resist lying, we need to understand its root causes.
So before we look at what it takes to create a culture of honesty, we need to examine some of the roots of dishonesty:
Pride, arguably, is at the root of all our sins, but it is a significant root cause of lying. Our pride tells us that we are elevated above others, above the rules, even above God. (Ironically, pride itself is based on lies!) Because we see ourselves this way, pride motivates us and provides justification to preserve our elevated position by skirting the truth. We can believe we are merely protecting ourselves, but what we are actually protecting is the deep-seated belief that we are somehow better, more important, or more indispensable than others.
When we lie, we view the truth as some kind of a threat to us. To our position, our pride, our sense of self, or even our wellbeing. It’s a lack of understanding of who we truly are, who we belong to, and where our security is found. We can face the truth (and tell the truth) when we believe that, ultimately, our value as a person is not connected to outside forces or circumstances, and not diminished in the face of unflattering truths about us.
Also likely to be at the root of most of our sins, fear drives us to make poor choices. Plain and simple.
This is a biggie. Our character isn’t something we inherit or are born with—it’s developed over time. Strengthened. Honed. Tested. And it’s developed through the choices we make. Meaning we are 100% responsible for our own character. People can damage your reputation or call your character into question, but they can’t actually affect your character. That’s up to you.
I’m sure these four areas are only some of the roots of our dishonesty, but even so, even when one is present in our lives, destructive patterns follow. Interestingly, the same things that help keep pride, insecurity, fear, and character weakness at bay are the same things that can help us create a culture of honesty:
Transparency doesn’t mean you have to tell everyone everything or that you cannot have privacy, but it means, I do not hide behind secrets and lies. Someone (or better, a trusted circle of friends) knows all your junk, loves you anyway, and calls you to a higher standard than that junk. Having this system in place allows you to have complete transparency about the rest of your life with most people. It’s allowing yourself to be an open book. And that equals trustworthiness, in most cases. An honest person is trustworthy, and a trustworthy person, honest.
Accountability is absolutely key to creating (and maintaining) a culture of honesty. You must have people and systems in place that will tell you the truth and hold you responsible for your words and actions. Ideally, these are people who love and care about you. But they are also not people who can be influenced or manipulated to hide anything incriminating on your behalf. Those that really are looking out for your best interests will not shelter you from the consequences of your choices. Accountability partners and groups are intended to help you avoid the pitfalls you are likely to encounter before they occur. And if and when you do fall, they point you in the right direction. Of course, all of this only works if you are honest with them to begin with!
This goes hand-in-hand with transparency, but it’s not exactly the same thing. We all walk around wearing a bit of defensive armor, protecting us from the hurtful experiences of life. Vulnerability is the choice to remove some of that armor in order to allow others to see your weak areas, and expose your heart to them. Exposing your heart enables others to see what’s in there, and it positions you to be moved by compassion for others. Allowing others to see your weaknesses does two important things. It removes your pride from the equation and it withholds judgement. Sure, the other person can judge you if they choose, but by opening yourself up to them, you yourself assume a posture of non-judgment.
I haven’t looked up the actual definition of integrity as I write this, but to me, integrity means a few things. First, it’s doing what’s right, no matter what. How do I gauge what’s right if it’s not perfectly clear? I imagine presenting the dilemma to Jesus and seeing how he responds. His response (even in my imagination) must be consistent to how he lives, what he teaches, and who he says he is in the Bible. Second, integrity means your words and actions can be trusted, are consistent and therefore, somewhat predictable, over time. Third, you practice what you preach, and you do not require others to live up to a standard you can’t maintain yourself. Finally, you own your mistakes and take responsibility for your actions.
Who should we show honor to? EVERYONE. No matter their position, especially those without position. When we truly believe that every human being is worthy of dignity and respect because he or she is a child of God, we honor them. That doesn’t mean their behavior or their position or their title warrants our honor and respect. I don’t want to mislead here. There are definitely people out there I don’t like or respect. But the minute we start thinking some lives are more valuable or deserve more dignity than others, we fall right back into the pride trap. And when we treat others with honor, we cannot think that lying to them is ever acceptable.
Honesty is an expensive commodity in any culture. It will always cost us dearly.
But what is costly is also of great value.
We must value honesty, integrity, transparency, and strong character if we are to reflect God’s character and live like Jesus—which is what we are called to do. None of us can do any of it (for long) on our own. We need His help. But creating a culture of honesty is a necessary inoculation against the epidemic before us, and a solid place to stand amidst a broadening mudslide of morality.