All of us make many small daily decisions about being honest. Do you deal honestly in all areas of your life, even the smallest ones? Or do you quietly smile and pocket the extra money when the cashier gives you too much change? Have you ever sold something and not been entirely truthful because you may have lost the sale? Do you put more hours on your timecard than you actually worked? Do you fudge the numbers on your tax return to get a larger refund? Do you bring supplies home from the office for personal use?
Thirty or forty years ago if you had asked someone if they were honest or truthful, they would have looked at you as if you had two heads. Back then there was no discernable difference between the two.
Today, however, attitudes have changed so much that people often manipulate their words and actions so they are scrupulously honest without being absolutely truthful.
Think about a small child playing with his ball in the house. He knows mom has forbidden playing ball in the house, but he is having a good time despite mom’s warning. Suddenly the ball hits a lamp and knocks it over. The lamp falls to the floor and breaks into a million pieces.
Hearing the crash, mom rushes into the room and says, “Did you break the lamp?” The child replies, “No mommy.” In his small mind, he didn’t break the lamp—the ball broke the lamp—so he thinks he is being honest. Yet even this small child knows he is not being absolutely truthful. He knows that he was the cause of the lamp breaking because he was playing with the ball.
The attitude of this small child is reminiscent of what we hear from political figures, sports icons, or media celebrities caught in a lie. When they are confronted, we hear qualifying statements such as “Well, as I recall …” or “What I remember is …” but they never actually declare the whole unvarnished truth.
Society’s attitude of relative honesty is the opposite of what we learn in Scripture. The Lord requires absolute honesty from all of us in every area of our lives all the time. “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who are truthful are his delight.” (Proverbs 12:22)
People who lie try to figure out if they’ll get caught or if they can get away with lying. But if we are living from a Scriptural basis, then our decisions are based on what will please God.
Society tells us to only deal with the facts that can be seen. Yet the Bible tells us to act in a way that displays our faith in the living God. In John 14:6, Jesus tells us, “I am the truth.” If we want to be like Jesus we need to be truthful. When we act in ways acceptable to the secular world but unacceptable to God, we are acting as if God is incapable of discovering our dishonesty.
Our actions speak louder than our words and acting dishonestly dims the light of Christ shining within us, erodes our faith response, and tarnishes the Christian life that others see in us. Every decision to be both honest and absolutely truthful helps us fulfill our role as Catholic Stewards.
To be honest with others we need to recognize that our personal preferences don’t change reality, because it is so easy to base reality on our own likes and dislikes. Being honest doesn’t mean that we are obligated to express every feeling we have on every subject. Just because we are being honest doesn’t mean that it’s our job to point out the faults and shortcomings of others.
If someone puts you on the spot and being forthright is not in anyone’s best interest, it’s okay to say nothing. You have the right to speak or remain silent. This is especially useful if someone is trying to pull you into a pointless argument or when someone’s feelings are on the line. “One is silent and is thought wise; another, for being talkative, is disliked.” Sirach 20:5
Another situation where we may be tempted to be less than truthful is with someone who is quite ill or in pain. We don’t know what to do or what to say and our temptation is to say things that come more out of our own fear than out of our care for the person in pain. Sometimes we say things like “Well, you’re doing a lot better than yesterday,” or “You will soon be your old self again.”
But we know that what we’re saying is not true, and our friend knows it too. In these situations, it’s best not to play word games. Simply say: “I am your friend, I am happy to be with you.” We can say that in words or with touch or with loving silence.
Regardless of the prevalence of dishonesty in our society, we all have the freedom to choose to live by a higher standard.
Are there times when you have been less than honest? Having the courage to review your past offenses may cause some discomfort, but recognizing when you have been dishonest can help you identify patterns and stop them from continuing.
Start by doing a thorough examination of conscience to find areas in your life where you may be dealing from a dishonest standpoint. As with any other time we’ve sinned, seek out the Sacrament of Reconciliation to put yourself right with God. After you restore your relationship with God, restore your relationship with the person harmed, then make restitution.
There is an old saying, ”You might be the only Bible that some people ever read.” Make sure the Bible people read when they see your actions and hear your words accurately reflects the light of Christ. If people are looking at you as a way to read the Bible, be sure they are reading the Good Book!