April 23, 1998
Eng 121 Sec47
The Value of Honesty
Honesty and simply being truthful seem, on the surface, to be one and the same concept. However, though they are closely related in definition and are in fact listed as synonyms, there are fundamental differences between the two. Truthfulness is defined as “consistently telling the truth, honest” in The American Heritage Dictionary, which also defines honesty as “the capacity or condition of being honest; integrity; trustworthiness.” Honest means “not lying, cheating or taking unfair advantage.” So what does that mean? The definitions are nearly identical, so one must turn to the connotations.
Truthfulness is the more basic of the two, it implies, as the definition says, speaking the truth predictably. If one is truthful, one tells the truth when asked a question. One does not spread lies, and one faces reality as it is. However, it is possible to be truthful and still not be trustworthy. If someone tells everything he knows when asked the smallest question, would you want to trust that person with an important secret? Likewise, someone can be truthful and still not be lawful, or entirely in the “right.” For instance, someone could be involved in something illegal, and, when asked about it, could tell the truth up to a point. The person in question would be consistently telling the truth, but it would not be the whole truth.
Honesty is a somewhat more complex idea that covers a broader range of requirements. Honesty is truthful, reliable, trustworthy, and open. It encompasses the virtues of truthfulness without the gaps. Being honest implies that you are willing to tell the truth at cost of personal risk. It implies being open and truthful no matter the conditions one faces. Real honesty means telling the truth out of respect for others and for oneself. Someone who is honest does not necessarily have to be asked in order to tell the truth; it is their standard of conduct and communication.
Of the two qualities, honesty is the more admirable because it is harder to both attain and maintain. Still, honesty cannot exist without truthfulness, for what is someone who has openness, reliability and trustworthiness but is without the ability to tell the truth? The answer is someone who can be trusted to lie openly. However, while we try to develop that important quality of honesty, it is important to remember that honesty stems from respect for others, and that includes respect for their feelings. Real honesty includes truthful tact. Honesty speaks for one’s character and improves relationships with others.