The ‘Ten Commandments’ of Character Development, Number Four: Be Honest

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Dr Simon’s series continues with the fourth of ‘ten commandments’ of character development: be honest.

I’ve been posting a series of articles on the most most essential values and principles to which a person must commit themselves in order to develop sound character. Prior posts have addressed the need to view oneself not as the center of the universe, but rather as a part of a much bigger reality, and to be very mindful of the impact we have on others and the world around us; the need to avoid developing a sense of entitlement by striving to be grateful for all we’ve been given; and the importance of developing a healthy and balanced sense of self-worth:

In my work over many years with disturbed characters, one of the most frequent and strikingly problematic issues I have found such individuals to struggle with has been their lack of regard for the truth. Dishonesty is at the very heart of character disturbance. And it’s bad enough that disturbed characters cheat, lie to, con, and manipulate others fairly wantonly even when there’s no real necessity to do so. But they are also frequently unable to be honest with themselves, thus letting their false pride prevent them from reckoning with their flaws and shortcomings and making the changes they need to make to become better persons.

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Instilling a positive regard for the truth in children is absolutely crucial to their character development. And real honesty and integrity serve as antidotes to the natural tendency to cheat or take short-cuts, or to achieve one’s goals through manipulation and deception. Hence, “commandment” number four:

To the best of your ability to know, pursue, speak, and display it, have the utmost reverence for the truth. You need not be brutal in your disclosures nor are you required to share every ugly thing you know to be true. But you must be ever mindful of man’s incredible capacity to deceive himself as well as others and the temptation we all face to secure the things we want and avoid the things we dislike through deception, cheating, and trickery. Honestly and humbly acknowledge and reckon with your mistakes. Avoid taking shortcuts in life and be willing to earn the good things you desire in an honest and honorable way. Always take the sincere and genuine course. This will enable you to develop soundness and integrity of character. (Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?), Chapter 4)

We live in an age in which respect for the truth is at an all-time low. Almost everyone “pushing” a product, advancing a political point of view, or advocating a cause engages in what pundits call “spin.” Rather than have an honest debate about the things important to us all, we seek to persuade by telling half-truths, by distorting and misrepresenting the facts, and by appealing to the baser instincts of others. All of this comes at the expense of our integrity, not just as persons but as nations and as a world community.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as having said that “honesty is the best policy.” In so stating, he was not so much extolling honesty as a virtue per se as he was promoting the pragmatic wisdom of being genuine. In the end, all lies take their toll. The lies we tell ourselves impair our ability to be the kind of person we all have the potential to be. And the lies we tell others inevitably bring pain into their lives and impair relationships. It’s not just good for us to be sincere. In the long-run, honesty and integrity pay off — and not just for the individual. But taking the truthful and genuine course is often difficult, requiring much courage, commitment and sacrifice. It’s often simply easier to lie, con, or cheat. And in the short-run, we might score a victory for ourselves. But in the long-run, everyone loses.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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