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The Religion of Honesty

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After studying and practicing honesty for more than a decade (having spent the prior period of my life being largely dishonest), I’ve come to realise that I’ve actually developed a worship of honesty

Having experimented with being more honest for such a long time, I’ve arrived at the firm conclusion that “Just be more honest” is the long-term solution to any social issue or self-confidence problem, and it’s become my go-to mantra for solving almost every difficult problem that crosses my path.

Honesty acts like the tip of the arrowhead; if you just focus on being as honest as possible, all the other areas of life follow it to create long term success in a way that’s appropriate for you personally – be it health, career, relationships, and so on. You might not get what you thought you wanted, but you’ll get what you truly need.

This is becoming more fact than opinion. It’s been skeptically tested by myself and hundreds of my clients, alongside many others who I have no personal connection to, and we can also see a growing body of evidence that people living with integrity can demonstrate a measurably higher quality of life [1], career and relationships than others, especially compared to the opposite end of the spectrum (e.g. criminal offenders and those with severe integrity-repellant Personality Disorders like AntiSocial PD and Narcissistic PD)[2].

Unfortunately very few if any scientific studies have been dedicated to measuring the effect that honesty has on quality of life [3].

As with all subjective morality, there really is no objective way to say “We must all be honest”. There is evidence to support this claim, just as there is no evidence to support any moral claim, given you start with an unproven assumption, e.g. “that human wellbeing is a good thing”. But such assumptions are subjective – there’s no way to prove that wellbeing is good.

So as much as it pains me to admit it, my worship of honesty is essentially a religious experience.

What is the Religion of Honesty?

In essence, religious honesty is the steadfast commitment to consistently practicing and demonstrating your integrity through words and actions.

You say what you are really thinking, feeling or believing, and you do what you know to be right (rather than just what feels good).

Honesty is the practice of trying to discover and describe the truth about reality and align ourselves with it as best as we can. So it is based on the assumption of an objective reality. This means that the universe exists and the Laws it follows exist, no matter what you believe, and that even if our reality is some sort of illusion[4], the illusion itself exists and follows Laws consistently.

Just like driving a car down a highway rather than serving ineffectively through the wilderness, we use honesty to stay on track with reality, in that we say things that are the most likely to be true and we do things that are the most likely to be effectively accurate in serving our goals. The assumption being that a person who aligns with reality is best placed to get the most out of real life, avoiding the distraction and suffering that comes from living an imaginary existence.

We start to call being honest a “religion” rather than just a practice when it becomes your priority, meaning that being honest is your first and foremost intention in anything and everything that you do. It means that you are willing to sacrifice other rewards – such as wealth, relationships, property, status, popularity, dominance, even respect – if honesty requires it of you. This is the faith part of the religion: you have faith (until the evidence accumulates to validate your faith) that being honest is the best long-term solution to any situation, even when it appears obvious that dishonesty would provide a short-term benefit.

You can say that you’re an “honest person” if most of what you say is truthful and most of what you do aligns with your values, however you’re only religiously honest when “most of the time” isn’t a good enough goal for you. A devotee of honesty strives to always be honest, even if such perfection might be impossible for a human being. There are no exceptions tolerated. Where most people will have preset exceptions for being dishonest, e.g. “I can lie if honesty will hurt someone’s feelings”, a devotee of honesty has no such excuses. The limit of their awareness and courage in any given moment are the only obstacles to their honesty, and these are obstacles they immediately seek to overcome.

The Religion of Honesty differs from all other religions for a few simple reasons: 

1) there’s evidence to base your faith on – you can demonstrate that being honest improves your long-term quality of life and the lives of others[5] (while being dishonest often quickly harms others and eventually hurts you), however at the beginning of your journey, as you build up this evidence for yourself, you may need to first act on faith that it might work for you,

2) the more of a fundamentalist you become, the less likely you are to cause harm, because harming others almost always requires manipulation and a fundamentally honest person is incapable of deception,

3) you are aligning with measurable reality rather than imagined fictions; evidence-based truth is your compass as opposed to ancient scripture or the guidance of a priest, and therefore applying scientific method is the most common way by which we figure out the truth until an even better method is discovered,

4) there is no dogma, commandments or rules (each individual decides their own morality); no barrier to entry; no reference or need for reference to a God/gods; no priests or persons with power over the followers; no attempts to convert anyone; no guilt or shame for sinning; no punishment for heresy; no promise of an afterlife; no rituals, traditions or cultural practices; no churches or temples; no politics; and no requirement to compromise your personal values,

5) the focus is on long-term quality of life – such as high self-confidence, deep and healthy relationships, and a strong sense of purpose and meaning – rather than short-term gratification (e.g. prayers being answered) or life after death; we will sacrifice short-term gains in approval, money and power if that’s what’s required to be more honest.

Why Honesty is The Way

All other religions are based on unfalsifiable metaphysical or supernatural claims. The Religion of Honesty is based only on truth: measurable evidence, be it internal (thoughts, feelings, sensations) or external (actions, objects, results, patterns). For this reason, we can rest assured that our religion is the most aligned to reality that we can possibly be.

If we are aligned with reality, then our fate is most likely to benefit us as much as possible, based on the definition of “suffering” as being at odds with reality. A person who goes with the universe is bound to enjoy the experience far more than a person who goes against it. Lying and deception are examples of struggling against or avoiding reality.

When you speak as honestly as possible, you not only learn who you truly are, you also share this information with others, allowing them to make the most accurate possible judgments and decisions about who you are. This accomplishes two goals: by becoming accurately self-aware, you give yourself the best possible chance for managing your life to your utmost benefit in terms of quality of life and psychological health (i.e. you’re working with the most accurate information available), and secondly, you give yourself the best possible chance to form intimate and meaningful relationships with others, giving you a sense of connection that isn’t forced or faked. Deception of yourself or others is seen as a distraction and delay in obtaining the best possible life for yourself.

In other religions, if something about their Way/Rules disagrees with your personal values you will be encouraged, threatened or even forced to compromise yourself to align with the religious dogma. In the Religion of Honesty, your values are the Way, and these can also adapt and change based on evidence. Nothing is set in stone beyond the desire to be as honest as possible.

Where a classic religion might say “Thou shalt not steal”, in our religion you can identify the few times where it is actually right to steal. You can adapt your speech and behaviour according to the context you’re in, ensuring that our religion never gets outdated because it will constantly update it according to the next situation you encounter. Each devotee of the Religion of Honesty is automatically keeping it up to date with the latest information about the universe. That’s why there will never be a Bible of Honesty – as soon as it’s written it’s out of date.

This religion is free. There are no demands on your wallet or time. You choose your own level of participation and no one is monitoring you or holding you to account. In a sense, it is your own religion, because there are no set group practices or culture to adhere to. You decide if you are living by the values you hold dear, and you decide on the consequences/reparations needed if you fail.

Reality itself is our God, and you can have a personal relationship with it by merely engaging your senses and observing the truth.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line

We refer to the Religion of Honesty as “evidence-based faith”. What this means is that we are guided in our words and actions by what can be measured and proven. There are no ancient books claiming how we should live based on fantastically unlikely things that may have happened. There are no priests proclaiming what you should or shouldn’t do. There is no word from God. There is just the evidence in front of you (or inside you) which you react to with your genuine expression of words or behaviour.

Mathematics and science is our guide. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Honesty is that line. If you wish to go from (a) to (b), honesty means going there with the minimal effort and the maximum accuracy – it means being as direct as possible.

If I’m honest with you right from our first encounter, you will very quickly decide how you feel about me, and vice versa. Our appropriate level of relationship will be established as quickly and accurately as possible, with zero wasted time or effort. 

There is no seduction, gameplay, manipulation, sales techniques, or any other diversion from the straight line. This is because any sidetrack only delays the inevitable. If we are not right for each other, it’s best we find that out in 10 minutes rather than in 10 years. If the product you sell is not right for me, it’s best I don’t buy it rather than return it and complain publicly about your deceptive service.

Mathematics is incapable of dishonesty, so ultimately we use mathematical principles to guide our language. If anything I say includes imagined facts that I created in my mind, I’m being less than honest. Mathematics never has an opinion; you cannot use it to make things up that don’t exist. Our language should aim to mimic mathematics in this way. When I speak, it should be with the aim of making it impossible for you to respond with “That’s not true” or “You can’t prove that”.

Opinions can be expressed, but must always be presented as opinions and never as facts. Fiction, such as stories and movies, are welcomed as entertainment, but must never be presented as the truth. Like watching a magician perform a stage show, the audience must know that they are being deceived and welcome it as a fun diversion. Presenting fiction as truth, e.g. a “psychic” supposedly contacting your dead relatives for exorbitant sums of money, is clearly defined as being dishonest.

Scientific method guides our behaviour: we experiment based on hypotheses about what is most likely to be true, and then learn from the experiment to be even more effective on our next attempt. If something is ineffective, then it is by definition also unscientific. If the way I go about tasks is cowardly, hesitant or deceptive, it will be less effective than directness. By “effective” we do not mean to gain instant gratification results (e.g. cheating on an exam to get a qualification), but rather to contribute to your long-term quality of life (e.g. failing the exam to discover that the topic is not worth pursuing so you can refocus).

The Principles of Honesty

While there are no commandments or rules in this religion, given that honesty is a difficult endeavour fraught with uncertainty, fear and sometimes unpleasant consequences, some principles can guide us to be as honest as possible with the least amount of pain:

#1 – You are free to break any of the following principles. They are nothing more than optional guidelines. There is not just one way to be honest; the possible expressions are infinite. There is no dogma in this religion.

#2 – When expressing yourself, clearly identify if what you’re discussing is a thought, feeling, observation, emotion, sensation, opinion, belief, guess, assumption, judgment etc. Qualify anything you claim with an accurate disclosure about the source of your information.

#3 – When taking an action that significantly affects another person, first ask yourself: “If I were to be treated this way, would I consider it to be ethical?” 

#4 – Let go of anything imagined that you’ve added to the actual facts where there is no reliable source, such as judgments, narratives, assumptions about motives, and anything else that you cannot show undeniable evidence for. Stick to the data that can be observed and measured.

#5 – Take full responsibility for anything that occurs inside your mind, ensuring that your language speaks of such things as if they are an event that involves only you. Never blame anyone else for your own thoughts or feelings. 

#6 – Express yourself boldly, cutting out all unnecessary additions to your language that come from fear, hesitancy, an eagerness to please, or confusion. Use the minimum words needed to convey the key points. Neither over-explain or undersell the key message.

#7 – Aim to speak of the most vulnerable and obvious truth when possible, rather than pretending it doesn’t exist and choosing instead to speak of lighter topics.

#8 – Try to view all events from a cosmic perspective: that is, to see their place in the larger, long-term scheme of things, and speak from this perspective (as opposed to being stuck inside the smallness of events).

#9 – Allow others equal time and space to speak and live honestly, without allowing them to encroach on your own space.

#10 – Regularly stop and review the action you’re taking, asking yourself: “Is this the most honest, meaningful and helpful thing I can think of doing right now?” or more simply: “Is this the best thing I can do?”

#11 – If you’re unsure of the truth, speak of your uncertainty rather than waiting to feel certain. A truly honest person is never completely certain; always leave room for correction. 

#12 – being honest does not require full disclosure; it can be fully honest to say things like, “I don’t trust you enough to give you that information”. 

#13 – allowing someone to believe something you know to be untrue is lying via silence. However, before you correct someone, check within to see if you do actually know the truth. The only truths you can ever know for sure are about your current thoughts and feelings.

#14 – When taking an action that you feel may be a breach of your values for a short-term reward, first ask yourself: “How will I feel about this in the future?”

#15 – when in doubt about what to say, speak about the doubt. When you’re worried about how they’ll react to your truth, speak about the worry. Any obstacle to being honest is the next truth to express.



Your invitation to join the Religion of Honesty

There are no forms to fill in, no baptisms to get you wet, no songs to be sung, no money to change hands. You join simply by choosing within your own mind to prioritise being an honest person over all other pressures, desires, distractions, cultures, traditions and temptations. You make a commitment to say what you mean and do the right thing, by your own standards, no matter how hard it is or how scared you feel. This commitment joins you.

You never have to prove your membership; simply because you can’t. No one but you can ever know if you’re being fully honest, and even you’re going to have a hard time knowing for sure yourself. No one can claim with certainty when you aren’t being honest, except in rare cases where your dishonesty can be proven through evidence, and even if they are able to prove it, it’s not their place to decide on the consequences. Your own guilt and standards are what you will use to hold yourself to account.

You do not enrol or convert others to this religion. While you might share what you believe in as part of a natural conversation, make no effort to convince them. Simply live this way where other people can see it happen, if that’s authentic for you to do, and they will be able to choose for themselves. You can inspire them to consider this religion by showing rather than telling them that honesty improves your self-confidence, relationships, and long-term lifestyle.

Most importantly, even when you lack the courage or awareness to be honest with others, make some time every day to assess your honesty by yourself. If you lacked the ability to be honest with others today, at least don’t lie to yourself about it. Learn from the experience, identify your weaknesses and blind spots, and seek to address them in whatever way you see fit.

A final warning…

Being honest opens a door that is difficult to close. Once you start trying to be honest, you’ll become aware of how dishonest you are, and you can no longer pretend that it doesn’t happen. It will start to become uncomfortable to be dishonest, whereas before you might have existed in a numbed self-justifying state where you almost lacked awareness of your deceptions. It’s almost impossible to comfortably return to dishonesty after a certain point of practicing honesty. So don’t take this commitment lightly, you might not be able to turn back.

This in itself is part of the intuitive evidence for the Religion of Honesty. If dishonesty is so uncomfortable that you’d rather not do it (or have it done to you), it suggests that the human psyche is wired to react adversely to it. Further, when you enjoy moments of pride in yourself for saying what you believe and doing the right thing, it suggests that you’re wired to be satisfied with honest living. In other words, you’ll discover what being on track with reality feels like in practice. It’s hard to turn your back on this once you’ve discovered it.

This religion may not have any other members that you’re aware of, and yet it’s hard to leave once you’ve joined. Your own values and emotions may bind you to it.

Don’t start if you aren’t prepared to go all the way.


References

[1] https://www.studyfinds.org/honesty-best-policy-study-finds/

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-happiness-doctor/201701/are-psychopaths-happy

[3] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/we-need-to-do-more-research-on-honesty/

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyu7v7nWzfo

[5] https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2018-42340-005 

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