Yesterday, my friend Michael posted an article about the (im)morality of piracy. I can’t say how much I respect his lifestyle choice with regards to this. And it’s one reason I’m writing this post.
The other is an article I read about a man who treated his mugger to dinner. No kidding.
Besides the obvious crazy-man sensationalism of the story, why is this important to me? Because it exemplifies the reasons behind my being so honest and trusting. My honesty has ended relationships before (if honesty kills a relationship, it was already doomed), kept me out of jobs and insurance policies, and carried other minor nuisances.
But I refuse to give it up, even if some friends and family may tell me white lies are “good” for relationships. I really don’t believe any lie is good. I’m not just coming from a moral high ground here, either. I honestly believe that living with integrity has a practical purpose. The Golden Rule—treat others as you would like to be treated—can be selfish. I’ll tell you why.
I believe in something called subjective reality. What we think, and what we believe, has a solid impact on our own reality. Hold on, don’t run… I’m not talking about some new-age spiritual philosophy, here. I’m talking about psychology. There are many different aspects to this, but today, I’m going to focus on integrity.
What happens to your interactions with people when you lie? What happens when you begin a relationship on the grounds of mistrust? When you steal? When you cheat? What about when you bad-mouth somebody you hardly know? Think about what goes on in the other person’s mind. If you lie, then they will learn not to trust you. If you steal or cheat, it’s similar. Those are easy.
But what about if you just don’t trust people? This is where the psychology gets interesting. If you start out on a footing of mistrust, then what reason does the other person have to be honest to you other than their own integrity? There’s no trust for them to break. There’s nothing to lose. It’s a no-brainer that the less honest person will lie, cheat, and steal their way over your corpse to get what they want. But if you enter a relationship with a trusting attitude? Now there’s something to lose. There’s a cognitive reason for them to be honest, whether it’s your respect, your repeat business, or simply their own good reputation; and, in the end, there is your relationship to lose.
It’s a similar situation for gossiping and bad-mouthing. Not only will the mud slinger have dug themselves a hole if their gossip or slander is made public, but what kind of first impression does this make? I also wonder why people feel the need to do this. It may very well be a result of the mistrust above; their beliefs have now contributed to their actions, impacting the world and—in return—bringing their own beliefs true. That is the power of subjective reality.
If you want a real world example, I can bring in exhibit A—My dad. The man is as honest a person as I’ve met. He’s also where I learned the value of integrity. But he has one major problem: He doesn’t trust people. I’ve lost count of how many times he’s told me I’m too trusting. He’s told me that people will screw me over at the drop of the hat if I just give them the chance. But I’m not the one who’s been ripped off for thousands of dollars, screwed over by family members, and left with nothing coming out of business deals. Those are all results of my dad’s interactions with people, and his not giving them reason to maintain his trust. He has gotten a lot better over the years, and it can be seen in how much better his dealings with people have become.
Speaking of, how has this worked out for me? Well, let me start with my exact philosophy about trust. When I meet somebody, I take them at face value. I trust everything they say, at least until I can get a feel for their personality and tendency toward red flags like grand-standing and gossip. I’m not naive, and I’m not stupid. But I do like to believe that people are good by nature, until proven otherwise. White lies, I can forgive in others. Black ones are a zero tolerance policy. I uncover one, and the person is exiled from my world. No exceptions. I, in turn, try my best to live by this policy, and I am harsher on myself than on others. After all, what right do I have to hold others to a standard, if I’m not willing to live up to that standard, myself?
Even with the harsh penalty for a real deception, I have only had to truly exile a smattering of people in my life. One for sure, and there are one or two whose side of the story I would like to hear first. I haven’t ever been truly “taken,” when I wasn’t already willing to accept that risk. I am surrounded by love, and I have a lot to give. I have my walls, but trust is not one of them.
So you can judge for yourself. The psychology is there.
Don’t do it for my sake. Don’t do it for society’s. Do it for your own.
Be selfish. Be good.