Honesty. It’s a lovely word, isn’t it? And so are the equivalent virtues that come along with it. Integrity. Honor. Truthfulness. Sincerity. Goodness. I like to think that most of us strive to be honest. But we’re only human, which makes the act of honesty difficult. Especially when we need to deliver a painful truth. I was listening to Billy Joel’s song “Honesty” on repeat one evening while I was taking my nightly bath. With a tub full of lavender-scented suds and aromatherapy oil that claimed to “relieve stress,” I was trying to wash away the fresh wounds of a heartbreak. Someone was honest with me. Maybe too honest - if there is such a thing. And the words of their honesty were difficult for me to digest. In my somber state, I found the melody and lyrics of the piano man’s music to be comforting. And so I hit “repeat song” on my playlist to drown out the chatter in my head and the pain in my heart. Billy’s music kept my emotions steady. And it got me to thinking... Is honesty always necessary?
I can’t remember the first time I told a lie. It probably happened when I was six years old and my mother asked me if I drank all of my milk at dinner. I’m sure I said yes, even though I found a way to dump most of it down the drain. I always hated the taste of milk, even with chocolate or strawberry syrup. I do recall the first time I told a lie and was caught in the coverup. I was in the seventh grade and I failed my math test. My teacher instructed me to have my test paper signed by one of my parents after I corrected all of my mistakes. I was typically a rule follower. And I didn’t like to get into trouble. I feared death on the bus ride home that day (which actually translated into the likelihood of being grounded for a weekend and missing the upcoming skating party at the local roller rink). And so I broke the rules and tried to get away with a lie. I found a piece of paper with my father’s signature and I traced his name onto my math exam. I didn’t like the way the forged signature looked at first, so I erased it and traced “Dr. Raymond Vecchio” a few more times before I thought it looked just right. You should have seen that paper! It was a mess! Eraser marks, faint pencil lines poorly traced by a pen, and shaky penmanship. But for some reason, my 13-year-old-self still decided to turn in that fake signature rather than fess up to the truth at home. I’ll be honest, I was nervous when I handed in my signed math exam the next day. And I’m sure I was wearing the lie on my face. My paper was most certainly divulging the truth - my father did not sign my test paper. Of course I was busted. Which led to double punishment - a detention at school and being grounded at home. In this case, the truth would have saved me at least half of my punishment.
Honesty. Sometimes it’s a scary word, isn’t it? We fear the punishment that comes along with the truth. Whether that means having something we desire taken away, hurting someone’s feelings, worrying that someone won’t like us, or getting into trouble. Telling the truth can be hard. But being honest ultimately feels better because then you have nothing to hide. There is freedom in honesty.
So back to that initial question - Is honesty always necessary? Billy sings a line in his song: I don’t want some pretty face to tell me pretty lies. All I want is someone to believe. I’m not sure about you, but I’ve had pretty faces tell me lies (and some of them were ugly too). But my favorite relationships - whether they were romantic or platonic - have always been rooted in honesty. There’s comfort in knowing that you can look another person in the eye and always know that you can believe what they’re saying. And if it becomes a relationship where their honesty hurts, maybe the words they speak are a blessing. It’s always better to be able to handle the truth than be burdened with a lie.