We all like to think we’re mostly honest people, and for the most part that is probably true. There are people who are habitually dishonest or pathological liars, but that’s something different.
In the every day scheme of things most of us consider ourselves moral and upright and point to our actions and choices to anchor our belief.
But do you ever wonder if honesty is subjective?
It’s easy to say we would never cheat or steal or do anything to compromise our integrity, and to judge harshly those who do. But is it easier to make the choice to not cheat or steal if we’ve never been desperate or broke for a long period of time?
This became very clear to me one day several years ago when I was checking out at the grocery store. The cashier gave me back change for a twenty, but I had only given her a ten. “You gave me too much,” I told her as I handed back the money. She praised and thanked me for being such an honest person, and as I walked to my car I began to think about what had just taken place.
I had always considered myself an honest person, and my actions for most of my life demonstrated my beliefs. But this interaction at the grocery store happened after I was coming out of a very difficult time financially. While walking to my car, I knew without question that had that interaction happened the year before, chances are I would have thanked heaven for the extra cash and kept my mouth shut. This realization was startling to me. I spent my life with the conviction that I was a scrupulously honest person, but in that moment I realized that while I was not inherently dishonest, it was true that the honesty I prided myself on could be situational.
We are so good at judging others, making ourselves superior by stating strongly ‘I would never do that!’ But isn’t it more accurate to say that in my current situation I wouldn’t, but if I were in your situation I might be frightened or desperate enough to make a choice that doesn’t align with my integrity?
In those years I was struggling I took some jobs that didn’t make me feel good about myself. I wasn’t a hooker or anything exciting or sinister, but they weren’t great jobs and I had bosses that were less than respectful, to say the least. Many people I knew would say things like, ‘I would never put up with that,’ or ‘I would never do that job.’
These comments always came from people who had always been well taken care of, most notably from women who had gone from their father’s care to a husband’s care, never having to fully support themselves alone. It’s easy to say what you would and wouldn’t do when you’ve never come face to face with the choice of not being able to pay your bills or taking a shitty job.
We are all struggling to be happy, to build a life that makes us feel good about ourselves. Wouldn’t it be easier if instead of judging each other we offered compassion and understanding?
If that’s not possible, wouldn’t it be better if we all just kept our big, judgy mouths shut?