When I was 14, something transformational happened to me: I lied to my mom, and I got caught. On a random night early in high school, I arrived home. I had to check in with her upon arrival. She and I were close - I told her that I been at a sports facility, and left her bedroom. I had been drinking on the beach at a party with friends.
She came downstairs shortly thereafter, came up to me and said, "I've always been able to trust you. Where were you tonight?" I naively thought that I could shoo her away, so I doubled-down, not realizing that my intoxication and alcohol-reek were giving me away. "I was at Sportland, I swear to God!" I replied.
The next night at dinner, she was giving me the silent treatment, and I knew something was up. After the meal, she came up to me and asked, "How did you end up on the beach last night?" I had seen her best friend's daughter the night before, had forgotten that I had, and she, predictably, told her mother, which was relayed to my mom. My mom was hurt, and it showed. It killed me.
My mom and I made a deal: thereafter, I would tell her the truth, with a tacit understanding that she'd be a bit more flexible with me. After that, I came home and told her where I had been and what I had been up to. And even if it had included some drinking - but certainly not drinking and driving - she was more lenient, trusted my judgment, and appreciated my candidness.
That simple honesty agreement became the North Star for my words, my actions, and my thinking. It was like receiving a clarifying psychological software upgrade. And it changed my life. I began to follow the principle of honesty everywhere. It led me to resist dogmas, it helped me see personal flaws. It helped me get real about my goals and how to achieve them. My relationships became better because people trusted me. And as importantly, some relationships have either ended or faded away. Truth-seeking is like a tuning fork for the mind - looking for bullshit, inconsistency, self-deception.
I'm still a work in progress. I fool myself. I please too much. I fear addressing the elephant in the room. I suffer from avoidance. I have yet to shed the many understandable but pernicious reasons human beings don't always speak and act honestly. But it has become less and less common. And that one event many years ago has, I'm sure, prevented so many personal calamities, lies, lost years, regrets, and broken trust. I feel more courageous, more sane. It's almost always possible to be both honest and decent. In fact, being honest with others is, long-term, the most loving thing you can do for those you care about.
The skill of developing a personality of integrity and social polish is one our civilization desperately needs to cultivate. Like other traits on display, it's infectious and is often mimicked: the more thoughtfully candid those are around you, the less tension there is, the more humor there is, clearing space for open and truthful dialogue. This leads to trust and connection.
Children are natural truth-tellers - curious, and instinctually transparent. We would all benefit from returning to this former psychological home, augmented by experience and maturity.