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I was on an emotional support website that I visit and encountered this question, posted by a young man, “What has happened to honesty and a person’s word meaning something?”

The question had gotten a number of responses, most of them diagnosing society as very dishonest and selfish, where ethics and values are looked upon as signs of weakness.

I spent a lot of time thinking about this question, as it represents a lot of pain and disappointment in my life. People don’t seem to understand how their dishonesty and inability to say what they mean and follow through can affect the lives of people around them. I recognize that I’ve become very rigid about this.

My own personal experiences with ‘honesty’ and ‘one’s word meaning something’ have been difficult, to say the least.

When I was young my experiences with friends were traumatizing, because they led to emotional and verbal abuse at home. Friends would make plans, assure me everything was ‘set’, so I would ask for permission to participate in an activity, usually having to make a trade off (if I got to do what I wanted, what would I do for my parent in return). More often than not, sometimes on the very day we were supposed to do something together, my friends would be invited to do something by someone else and agree, would decide they no longer felt like doing something or would change the day and time. At home I would be berated, have to hear “real friends don’t treat people like that”, “you’re gullible”, “they only care about you when they want something from you”, and when I would put it behind me and continue with the friendship, I’d hear, “you’re a glutton for punishment.” Each time it happened made it more difficult for me to get permission to do anything with friends in the future. They didn’t understand how their choices affected me.

As a young adult I discovered that my parent had lied about a variety of things concerning our family history, family members and herself. As these lies were revealed to me I realized there was very little about my family that I’d been told the truth about.

At several times during my life there have been people who’ve vowed “I will always be here, I’m not going anywhere.” They offer this promise unsolicited by me, but within time, they disappear from my life, walk away and close the door, often without an explanation of any kind.

Over the years I’ve learned to repeat things back to people, to be sure I’m hearing them right, to be sure I’ve understood the meaning they intended. I’ve learned, when people make promises or offer something, to ask them if they are sure they can come through, to acknowledge what they might have on their plate and give them an out. In some cases this has worked, in others it fails miserably.

As a result of my experiences with ‘honesty’ and ‘one’s word meaning something’, my response to this question was cynical at best. Most of the people in my life whom I should have been able to trust have been less than honest with me.

I suspect that some folks say what they think is the right thing to say, whether they truly believe it or not; some people say what they think someone wants to hear, whether they truly mean it or not; and some folks say what they think will get them accolades and make them feel better about themselves.

I try to be honest with everyone, sometimes I’m painfully honest and other times I’m honest, but might tone it down if I think blunt will hurt someone. I try very hard not to make promises or plans if I’m not sure it’s something I can follow through with.

I suspect that honesty and meaning what one says are lacking because accountability is lacking within society.

One of the answers this question got was that it’s become commonplace, acceptable to lie, to say what’s necessary but to not follow through. It’s almost expected that we don’t hear the truth. I can’t disagree with that analysis.