06. Honesty: To act with transparency and fairness 

What would you do?

In January 2003, a security guard called Maria Fe Sotelo found a bag containing more than $11,000 in a shopping mall in Manila, Philippines. Without hesitation, she handed it in. The grateful businessman to whom it belonged offered her a cash reward, which she politely declined. However Maria’s honesty enabled her to realize her dream of becoming a police officer, when the Philippine National Police waived its height and age requirements especially for her. 

The benefits of honesty

Honesty has the potential to:

  • help us keep our conscience clear and our self-respect intact 
  • build fair, open and trusting relationships with each other
  • promote a culture of seeking the common good instead of pursuing personal self-interest

A 16 Guidelines view on honesty

Honesty is an opportunity to move through the world gracefully without harming other people. To speak or act dishonestly is to put our own interests ahead of someone else’s. To distort what they experience to fit our needs, or to take their possessions for ourselves. This is why dishonesty causes such disappointment and pain. Whereas to be honest is to cherish the needs and wishes of someone else. It is a statement that we care about another person’s welfare.

Honesty is a personal choice that arises every time that human beings connect with one another. Each individual has the opportunity to be straightforward and honest in their dealings with other people, regardless of their health, family situation, possessions or resources. In doing so, they help to create a culture of honesty for everyone.

Imagine a world where everyone plays fair, acts justly, and keeps their financial affairs simple and straightforward. Even the thought can make us soften and smile. It may take an enormous amount of courage and inner strength to bring this about, but why not get going right now? Honesty starts with each one of us.

16 Guidelines resources and training for developing honesty


Did you know?

Studies at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and the University of California at Berkeley have shown that brain areas behind the forehead - the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex - become more active when a participant decides to lie or to be honest. This brain region is known to be critically involved in cognitive control and hence they conclude that the decision involves a negotiation between self-image and self-interest.


Zhu et. al., Damage to dorsolateral prefrontal cortex affects tradeoffs between honesty and self interest, Nature neuroscience, 17, 1319–1321, 2014.



Money is a sticky substance” said Muhammad Yunus, whose passion to help ordinary people and communities out of poverty led to him introducing a new system of microfinance in his home country of Bangladesh. His view is that although people are fundamentally honest and credit-worthy, the traditional banking system is not people-worthy.

Yunus is a former university professor of economics and Nobel Peace Prize winner who believed that a new system of banking based on principles of honesty and trust could transform the lives of poor people and communities. Following a life-changing experience of how local women were trapped in poverty for lack of capital, he established the Grameen Bank, which introduced new community-based mechanisms to encourage repayment of small loans. His view is that poverty does not belong in a civilised human society, but in museums. 

For more on Muhammad Yunus, see:

  1. www.muhammadyunus.org
  2. Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus with Alan Jolis (Cambridge MA, Public Affairs Books, 2003)
  3. A range of videos about Yunus and the Grameen Bank that he set up on the Bangladesh Video Archives site www.ethikana.com


A short reflection on honesty from '16 Guidelines: The Basics' book

Find a quiet space where you can relax. Sit comfortably. To help you settle, focus your awareness on your breathing. Let go of any thoughts, images or feelings that arise. Whenever you become distracted, bring your awareness gently back to the sensation of the breath going in and out. Spend a few minutes enjoying the experience of coming to rest. 

Start by reflecting on the quality of honesty. Recall a situation where your honesty was put to the test and you managed to behave in a completely clean clear way; when you resisted the temptation to take something that wasn’t really offered to you, or to twist the truth. How did it feel then? How does it feel now? Rejoice in your capacity to be honest and straightforward.

Next, see if you can recall a situation when you failed to be as honest or straightforward as you would have liked. If some discomfort arises, notice it, identify it and persevere. Recall how you felt when you were not being honest, in as much detail as possible. Can you remember the sensation in your body? 

Reflect on the attitudes that lay behind your dishonest action. What led you to behave in this way? What did you hope to gain from it? Did it turn out the way you expected?

Explore in your mind the implications of your behaviour. This may take some concentration and courage. How did your lack of honesty or transparency impact on other people? Will there have been a knock-on effect? What would happen if everyone behaved in this way?

If you are feeling regret, can you turn this to good purpose? Can you redirect that self-critical energy and make a resolve to behave differently in the future? Visualise yourself as someone who is respected for their honesty and straightforwardness. Imagine yourself, in every instance, speaking truthfully and behaving with integrity. Enjoy the sensation of having a peaceful and clear conscience. 

Close with the wish “May all beings be happy!”


Quotes on honesty

  • If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.- Marcus Aurelius
  • Make yourself an honest man, and then you may be sure there is one less rascal in the world. - Thomas Carlyle
  • Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.—Albert Einstein
  • There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience. - French Proverb
  • An honest man does not make himself a dog for the sake of a bone.  – Danish Proverb
  • If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything. – Mark Twain
  • One falsehood spoils a thousand truths. – Ghanian proverb
  • My actions are my only true belongings. My actions are the ground on which I stand.? Thích Nhat Hanh
  • Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom. – Thomas Jefferson


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