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Honesty involves integrity, truthfulness, the absence of deceit and being trustworthy, loyal, fair, and sincere.

“no legacy is so rich as honesty”

William Shakespeare

Honesty means more than not lying. A more complete definition of honesty shows that an honest person doesn’t do things that are morally wrong. If something you do is breaking the law or if you have to hide what you are doing because you’ll get in trouble, you are probably not being honest. So honesty is about speaking and acting truthfully.

  • Honesty means you don’t say things about people that aren’t true. You are not being honest if you make up rumors about someone or if you share rumors someone else made up.
  • Being honest means you admit to your actions, even if you’ll get in trouble. You are not being honest if you deny you did something wrong when you really did it.
  • Honesty means you explain how a situation really happened. You are not being honest if you say something happened one way when it really happened another way.

Honesty is also closely connected with authenticity.

Honesty is a broader concept than many may realize. It involves both communications and conduct.

Honesty in communications is expressing the truth as best we know it and not conveying it in a way likely to mislead or deceive. There are three dimensions:

Truthfulness. Truthfulness is presenting the facts to the best of our knowledge. Intent is the crucial distinction between truthfulness and truth itself. Being wrong is not the same thing as lying, although honest mistakes can still damage trust insofar as they may show sloppy judgment.

Sincerity. Sincerity is genuineness, being without trickery or duplicity. It precludes all acts, including half-truths, out-of-context statements, and even silence, that are intended to create beliefs or leave impressions that are untrue or misleading.

Candor. In relationships involving legitimate expectations of trust, honesty may also require candor, forthrightness and frankness, imposing the obligation to volunteer information that another person needs to know.

Honesty in conduct is playing by the rules, without stealing, cheating, fraud, subterfuge and other trickery. Cheating is a particularly foul form of dishonesty because one not only seeks to deceive but to take advantage of those who are not cheating. It’s a two-fer: a violation of both trust and fairness.

Not all lies are unethical, even though all lies are dishonest. Huh? That’s right, honesty is not an inviolate principle. Occasionally, dishonesty is ethically justifiable, as when the police lie in undercover operations or when one lies to criminals or terrorists to save lives. But don’t kid yourself: occasions for ethically sanctioned lying are rare and require serving a very high purpose indeed, such as saving a life — not hitting a management-pleasing sales target or winning a game or avoiding a confrontation.

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