A best policy and virtue

“Honesty is the best policy” is a proverb by Benjamin Franklin and it holds significant value today and always. And also, of great value is the quote “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom” which is attributed to Thomas Jefferson. Also, it has been said “individuals who contemptuously articulate that an honest person is dishonest, those individuals are indeed conceited in their own deceitfulness.”

Oh, how we need honesty today!

Honesty refers to a facet of moral character and connotes positive and virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, sincerity, and authenticity. And furthermore, when we think of honesty we think of trustworthiness, loyalty, and reliability. In this day of campaign raucous rhetoric, business dealings, and everyday living … virtuous honesty stands front and center in our minds. It was Albert Einstein who said so eloquently “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.” In life, the foundation stone for success in whatever we do in life … even in the political arena … is honesty, which encompasses character, integrity, faith and loyalty. For truly, honesty is a treasured virtue.

The folklore of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree and admitting it to his father (“I cannot tell a lie, Pa”) is one of the most persistent in American history. Truth or otherwise, this story has been repeated many times over the ages. But, it was George Washington who did say “I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.” Today, our candidates for public office … be they candidates for local, regional, statewide, or national in scope .. would do well to heed Washington’s statement on honesty. Truly, wherever and whatever in life, honesty is the best policy.

Honesty is the basis of all healthy relationships, whether with a spouse, friend, co-worker, or the Americans pubic. Indeed, honesty engenders trust, and trust is absolutely essential for maintaining relationships in all walks of life. Truly, honesty establishes consistency, allowing the other person to rely on what you say as carrying true meaning. Most importantly of all, honesty is about respect and valuing the dignity of the other person or persons wherever, whenever, or whoever they may be. It was Estella Eliot who said so poignantly “By honesty, truth and decency all link together, we can improve our families, communities and our society”.

Honesty is a powerful tool and like most tools, it can be used for good or it can be used destructively. It can be used to build others up or it can be used to tear others down. While the tone of one’s verbiage plays a huge role in determining the difference, it is one’s motivation which plays an even bigger role. We can use words to genuinely encourage others up, or to intentionally harm and tear others down. Indeed, truth and honesty with intent to build other up and assist them in any way possible, is a true virtue.

It was Abraham Lincoln who said “No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar.” For honesty, true honesty, adds much to under-gird the simplicity of life. Simplicity in life cannot be achieved without honesty. Honesty can live without simplicity, but simplicity cannot live without honesty. Consider the fact that every time we are not truthful, we create an alternate false reality. And subsequently, we are forced to live a life in both worlds: the true one and the false one we’ve created. On the other hand, when we choose honesty… in all aspects of life… we live the same life wherever we are. Indeed, honesty leads to life’s simplicity, but dishonesty leads to complications of disharmony, lack of trustworthiness, and anxiety.

To be sure: “Honesty is the best policy.” And you know, in all of life, and in today’s public arena … this is so very true. Indeed, honesty is a virtue that is to be treasured!

Dr. Robert L. Heichberger is distinguished service professor emeritus of the State University of New York at Fredonia.