Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Complicated Definition of Honesty by Louis Evan Palmer

Why does a
single word
cheating and

Honesty as a word for a virtue is doing a heavy-lifting job. It's more than just "not lying", that is, where honesty means telling the truth.

It's more than "not stealing", that is, taking without permission something that does not belong to you.

It's also has "not cheating" as part of its definition which can be construed as stealing & lying together - often where what's being stolen is of an immaterial nature.

How did honesty get encumbered with such a broad scope? Is there a lesson for us in its meaning?

On the face of it, it's difficult to see the commonality between stealing and lying.

When cheating is brought in, we see the lying or misrepresentation as a means of stealing, an enabler, although it does stand on its own as a misdeed.

But lying on its own versus stealing on own - what's the connection? Why are they joined in the meaning of Honesty?

Assuming that our ancestors had some insight into human nature when the various meanings for words were arrived at, we must then assume that there is a connection between these seemingly distinct failings. The one that comes to mind after some thought is that dishonesty is a violation of trust and that at a higher level honesty is a state of trust and a relationship of trust.

That state & relationship encompasses many things - verbal and written statements, material objects, money and financial instruments and out of those manifestations of a state & relationship come the specific facets of lying, cheating and stealing.

Our societies, where lying, cheating and stealing are now a job requirement, stand as monuments to broken trust. We have to learn to navigate through rivers of lies and misappropriations and it is there, in the never-ending recovery from another broken trust, that we suffer the most.

Trust must co-habit with Hope and Respect. All the mundane virtues raising themselves up again. They travel in packs.

Copyright Louis Evan Palmer 2006
The Complicated Definition of Honesty, Louis Evan Palmer, The Way It Can Be,