(From Salon.com © 2010)
For the moment let’s forget about honesty as an ideal. Let’s instead examine something far more pragmatic - and I think more exciting: The opportunistic use of honesty for personal growth: The use of honesty to build self-esteem and character. There are many on our planet who are driven by the need for self-expression, recognition, money, power and control. They are the 'good guys' and 'bad guys' who make a palpable contribution to our world, both positive and negative. Some are so zealous in their pursuit of their goals that character and honesty are non-issues for them. The vast majority of us do not march to their music, and if even if we did, we lack the intense hunger that fuels them. We lack the guile, guiltlessness and shrewdness to fund that kind of hunger. For the most part, even the most ambitious of us are not like them. We also yearn for success, assets, recognition and security, but resist accomplishing our goal at the expense of our values. We sort of know that the sacrifice of a core value like honesty, the importance of which we preach to our children and expect from our friends, loved ones and business colleagues, is not worth a potential gain. We are constantly tempted and slip from time to time diverted by convenient shortsightedness. We ignore or are tempted to ignore the downside of being dishonest in pursuit of an objective we feel we can’t achieve by being honest. What we lose in the process is rarely obvious at the time. It’s far easier to believe that the easiest path is the right one.
Imagine all of us huddled against the shore wanting to escape the limitations of 'the mainland' and improve our lives. We want to succeed at grander tasks, to earn more money and enjoy more recognition and power. We look out to sea and see an island, an island of opportunity, a better place where we can accomplish the results we seek. There are two ways to get to that island. We can swim -and the journey is more difficult, presents a few risks and requires faith - or we can take a shortcut, a convenient, free motor boat trip that takes us to the same island with less risk and effort. Both take us to the same place, but one is risk free and will make that leg of our life’s journey easier. However, there is a calculable cost for that 'free lift.'
Those of us who want more out of life get to the island by one means or another. As we mature and our needs and goals increase, we work our way across the island where we again find our ambitious group bunched together on the far shore searching the horizon for a new, greater, more lucrative and profitable challenge. We look out to sea as we did before when we were less experienced and see another island of opportunity, but this one is farther from shore than the island we're on - and there are no motor boats. The only way to get to that next island is to swim, but unless we have built the mental muscle, self- esteem, self worth and 'I can' attitude built by having made that initial swim, we cannot make this next journey. We are trapped on the island we’re on. One could debate which of the means of reaching the objective was better if there were no more islands. Certainly, if there was nothing more at stake, it would be logical to take the 'easy way,' but there is very much more at stake. The more we grow, the more we understand that life is a succession of journeys, all of which depend on the lessons and experiences gained on previous ones. We realize that there are countless islands, each one more rewarding and gratifying than the last, each one providing a chance for greater achievement, each accomplishment nurturing more confidence and self-esteem. We learn that more islands of opportunity can’t be reached by shortcuts. There are no more motor boats. All you have is you. Swimming builds up self-esteem and self- reliance. Honesty builds up self-esteem and self-reliance. To use dishonesty to accomplish an objective is to depend on the misplaced faith, fallibility and lack of knowledge of others--in other words, the results you achieve flow from your lack of faith in yourself, but requires the faith of others. They flow from your weakness and depend on the weakness of others. If you are serious about exploring your potential, you must make that first swim. You must view honesty as a companion on your journey to self-fulfillment. You must clearly understand early in your voyage that if you don’t utilize honesty as a tool to build belief in yourself, you will eventually be stranded in place - and for the rest of your life be forced to rely on guile, vocabulary, and the frailty of others, rather than on your inner strength and convictions.
If you don’t opt to ‘swim,’ the journey to find your real potential ends. Instead, life is spent searching for shortcuts. It becomes repetitious. Dreams are replaced by hope, realism by false optimism. Inevitably, frustration and disappointment become lifelong companions. Using dishonesty to accomplish an end is like building a dead end street. The street might get completed, but the road doesn’t lead anywhere.
One thing for sure, the only way most of us have a shot at real contentment in life is to enjoy self-esteem, self-respect and the respect of others. In the absence of these, most of us find true happiness unattainable. To be truly self-content and assure your continued growth, you must take credit for the use of your character and not the manipulation or omission of facts. The more experience and wisdom you acquire, the more you’ll 'visit' these other islands, to which the only means of transportation is your self-esteem and character.
I am fascinated by honesty. If we think of ourselves as works-in-progress and understand that our life is a canvas, the value of which we are consistently trying to improve and increase the value of, then honesty becomes just another color on our palette to be used to enrich our painting. Honesty becomes a tool to help us create something of value, our own masterpiece.