When you think about what makes an honest person, you likely have a clear list of traits in your head.
The 10 things listed below would never make it onto that list, ever.
They’re actions that nobody with a shred of integrity would take part in if they wanted to be able to live with themselves afterward, let alone maintain other people’s faith and trust in them.
1. Outright lie.
Once a person is known to be a liar, nothing they say can ever be trusted again.
After all, if they lied about that thing, they might be lying about this one.
People lie for a variety of reasons, but if they’re doing so for personal gain then they’re intentionally misleading others to get what they want—regardless of how their lies might affect anyone else.
Someone who wants to sleep with a particular person might lie about their relationship status so they can cheat without their partner finding out.
Similarly, someone who wants to date a particular person might lie about aspects of their life in order to appear more appealing to the object of their affection.
Alternatively, someone might lie to achieve a goal or get ahead of others in life.
But an honest person…lie…? No chance.
If you lost your wallet, you’d appreciate it if the person who found it turned it in untouched, right? That’s something an honest, decent human being would do for another.
In contrast, a self-serving person who’s more concerned with personal gain than basic decency might take the money and credit cards out first, then either mail it back empty or discard it.
Others may go a step further and take advantage of certain shady opportunities for their personal benefit, such as identity theft or cloned credit cards. Since they don’t actually interact with the victim, they don’t feel remorse for doing so.
Theft can take different forms, and it can also involve lying to others. For example, someone might lie about having a terminal illness in order to encourage others to donate to their imaginary medical bills, while another might lie about a disability in order to get special treatment or accommodations at work, events, and so on.
An honest person would feel so emotionally and physically repulsed by the idea of stealing that they’d never be able to go through with it.
3. Take credit for someone else’s work.
Just about all of us remember the lectures we received in school about why it was important not to plagiarize.
More important than not learning by doing the work ourselves was the fact that by claiming another’s work as one’s own, the person who actually did the work didn’t get the credit they deserved.
The same goes for taking credit for other people’s efforts in our day-to-day lives, whether it’s by claiming that one has done more work on a group project than they actually did, submitting work that a colleague (especially a subordinate) had worked hard on, or claiming that they created an art piece that was bought for pennies from an artisan in a marginalized community.
Taking credit for someone else’s work is essentially a type of theft. Furthermore, it paints the one taking credit as untrustworthy, underhanded, and irresponsible.
An honest person, on the other hand, will actively promote the work of others and applaud the effort that went into it.
4. Misrepresent their achievements or skills.
People who are desperate for work often embellish their CVs or resumes in the hope of having a greater chance at employment.
It’s one thing to stretch the truth slightly and another to completely misrepresent one’s skills and achievements.
For example, it’s one thing to say that you’re fluent in a language when you only have moderate proficiency, and another to claim that you have a doctorate degree in a particular field.
The thing about misrepresenting one’s skill set is that one can rarely fake education or experience. If you lie about having a law degree but can’t define Habeus corpus when asked, you won’t just be found out: you might end up in serious trouble.
There are many cases in which falsified academic credentials have resulted in successful careers, such as the former dean of admissions at MIT who lied about the degrees she’d achieved.
That said, people who misrepresent themselves inevitably end up reaping the consequences of their actions, to their own detriment.
Honest people are also authentic. They don’t pretend to be anyone other than themselves, and that includes being transparent about their achievements and abilities.
5. Sabotage others to benefit themselves.
We’ve all been in situations where someone else has had an advantage over us regarding something we want.
For instance, the better looking of two friends might get the guy/girl that both are interested in or the job that both are applying for; the more popular person might get the promotion at work, and so on.
This happens in nature in “survival of the fittest” scenarios as well. Much like in nature, however, some beings sabotage others for their own benefit or personal gain.
Regarding the above scenarios, one person might sabotage another’s prospects by divulging unsavory information about them or even planting something incriminating amongst their possessions.
For example, someone might slip something into a colleague’s food or drink so they fail a drug test and end up ineligible for promotion or even fired.
Another example of this would be 90s aspiring Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding, who hired her ex-husband to attack her rival with a baton in order to eliminate her from the competition. This attempt at sabotage backfired, and Harding was banned from competitive skating for life.
Honest people aren’t immune from envy, but they would never actively seek to deny others for their own benefit.
6. Abuse a position of power they hold.
We constantly hear stories about people who have abused positions of power for the sake of personal gain.
Ponzi schemes, insider training, and sexual abuse are just a few examples of the ways people can use their status for their own benefit.
High-ranking company officials might misappropriate company funds for their own use, and some unsavory movie directors or producers might take advantage of young, aspiring actors.
Similarly, people who have access to personal information might use it for their own benefit. For instance, a person who works at the DMV might look up the address and contact info for a favorite celebrity so they can get closer to them.
Many people who work in administration and have significant access to information or funds have the potential to abuse that information for their own gain. Fortunately, most of them are honest individuals who have enough personal ethics to not benefit themselves at anyone else’s expense.
7. Manipulate others.
Dishonesty can involve manipulating others into doing things that benefit the perpetrator.
For example, someone may claim that they’re going to be evicted soon in order to manipulate the person they’re dating into letting them move in.
Playing the victim is a tried-and-true tactic that many use to manipulate others into doing what they want, as is guilt-tripping.
Someone who doesn’t want their spouse to hang out with their friends might fake illness or injury to coerce them to stay home, implying that if something bad happens while they’re out, they’ll never forgive themselves.
The one who’s doing the manipulating might feel that their actions are justified, as they’re benefitting from the behavior, and in their mind, “nobody’s getting hurt.”
Meanwhile, their actions are causing irreparable damage to the relationship and distancing those they care about.
And that’s what an honest person gets—they understand that the value in their relationships is worth way more than any temporary gain they might get from manipulating others.
8. Betray someone’s trust.
When and if a person trusts another enough to divulge personal information or secrets to them, then that information is sacrosanct.
Anyone who has an iota of decency would never betray that trust for their own benefit, as doing so could have atrocious consequences.
Not only would this kind of betrayal utterly obliterate whatever kinship they had with the other person, but the betrayal could also have lifelong consequences.
The person whose trust was broken may never be able to trust anyone else ever again, thus damaging whatever relationships they try to have in the future. Furthermore, depending on the subject matter that was divulged, there may be various negative repercussions.
As with other things on this list, betraying trust always affects the one who’s done the betraying as well. Although sharing information might result in the betrayer getting their way temporarily, they’ll sabotage their future success: who would ever be willing to share important info or secrets with them again?
9. Break their word.
A person’s word should be their bond, but many people pick and choose which promises to keep, and which to break for the sake of personal gain.
Breaking one’s word can take a variety of different forms, depending on the individual and the situation. For example:
- Breaching a confidentiality agreement (as long as it’s not legally binding and thus has no negative repercussions on them)
- Disregarding other people’s personal boundaries
- Not honoring their commitments
- Choosing not to fulfill an obligation that no longer suits them
As you can see, breaking one’s word can relate to several different situations. One person who has promised to financially support a partner or child might hightail it to the Maldives to abdicate this responsibility without risk of legal penalty or extradition.
Another might disclose confidential information about their workplace to a competitor for the sake of furthering their own career or social status.
The problem with breaking one’s word like this is that it sets a precedent. You’re familiar with the phrase “if they cheat with you, they’ll cheat on you”? The same goes for breaking one’s word. Someone who breaks their word proves by their actions that they’re utterly untrustworthy.
An honest person’s word, on the other hand, can be relied upon. When they say something, they mean it.
10. Compromise their values.
Someone once told me that integrity is doing the right thing even when nobody’s watching.
This may refer to obeying a stop signal in the middle of nowhere when there’s no other living soul within 50 miles, or refusing a gift that would make your life a bit easier at the cost of your integrity
A lot of people compromise what they claim to be their values for the sake of personal gain.
For instance, a steadfast vegan and animal rights advocate may set aside their values if they’re offered a significant amount of money to promote tasty beef snacks.
Similarly, a body positive life coach may support intense fitness and weight loss programs if they end up receiving millions of dollars’ worth of equipment and clothing as payment.
A truly honest person would never sacrifice their integrity and self-respect for the sake of (usually temporary) personal gain.
The money or items they’d receive as a result would be forever tainted in their eyes, and they wouldn’t be able to live with themselves if they sacrificed their principles that way.
If someone considers doing any of the things mentioned above for the sake of personal gain, it’s important to remember that these actions cannot be undone.
There may be temporary benefits in some aspects of their life, but their reputation will forever be sullied. They’ll be seen as someone who can’t be trusted with anything, ever, and that can permanently damage both their personal and professional lives.
Being honest and maintaining personal integrity can be difficult at times, especially when contending with challenging circumstances. In the long run, however, honesty really is the best policy if you want to be able to look in the mirror and be proud of the person you see there.
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