To be honest as this world goes is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.
—William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Although parents and psychologists laud honesty as the best policy, it is a virtue that is hard to find. Look at politicians, used car salesmen, or any number of professions where it seems the “only” way to get ahead is through deception. Consider films or other forms of entertainment where we delight in the clever thief or quick-witted liar. We find many examples of the good liar, but few of the honest person. The honest person is usually shown as hopelessly naive or unbearably dense. If they only knew what the world truly was, they would act differently.
However, honesty is not mere optimism. The honest person is not one who tells the truth at all moments because they are too stupid or think that truth will magically make everything easy. Nor is it mere legalism or fear of punishment that makes someone truly honest. Rather, the honest person is in love with the truth.
Honest people see reality for what it is. Their clear vision lets them see what is good and what goods are lacking in what they see. For them, telling the truth is not merely parroting all the things they know, but actually interacting with the world and communicating this activity to others. Truth is not a static or dead thing, but a dynamic interaction with all that exists. Authentically honest people see and speak something of this truth, but they know enough not to think they possess the entire truth.
Not only do honest people speak and see truly, but they live truly. They live in accordance with what they see to be the truth about humanity. That we act according to reason, not mere instinct. That certain actions are good for us and others are harmful. That we have limited power, but unlimited desire. Honest people see their own limits and act accordingly, doing their best with what they actually have, and not with what they wished to possess. Honest people are first of all honest with themselves, and this overflows to the world around them.
Honesty demands that we know ourselves and the world around us. Honesty demands that we question our existence and its ultimate cause. Honesty demands that we come to know God.
I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. (Jn 14:6)
Honesty is based on truth, but the truth of reality comes from God, the First Truth. The Christian virtue of honesty is elevated from the natural virtue of honesty by the different kind of sight given in faith. Christians have not only come to see the truth in the world around us, but we have come to see Truth’s own face. The Truth is never an abstract concept, but has taken on our human nature. Truth has spoken to us, lived with us, suffered and died for us. Truth has saved us.
Honest Christians cannot keep silent about this Truth: Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We live with this Truth before our eyes. We live in the midst of this Truth in the sacraments. We live this Truth with our thoughts, words, and actions. We live this Truth in love.
In all honesty, who could deny this Truth? Who would want to?
Image: Jacob Jordaens, Diogenes Searching for an Honest Man