Is Honesty a Weight?

What does it mean to be honest today?

Posted Apr 04, 2019

I think that the meaning of the word honesty has recently changed. For sure, we have almost no control over the meanings of the words; it’s the way in which people use them that makes its meaning and not the other way around.

So, it seems that today being honest means taking a weight off your chest.

The origin of the word

Originally from Latin onus, honesty means weight. In fact, the root of the word indicates that being honest is a weight that you should be able to keep for yourself. According to Cicero and Thomas d’ Aquinas, for example, honestly had to do with acknowledging something heavy whose ability to bear represents a virtue. Or as Aristotle wished, a cardinal virtue is to be an excellent person. Or, Diderot considered the duplicity of honesty as based on inner morality and external acknowledgment, what we are and what others think about us.

From honesty, derives honor. Honor is a metaphorical weight that one gains in society when they participate in the values and ethical code of that group, (Persianity, Honour and Shame, 1969 & Berger, On the obsolescence of the concept of honor, 1970) This participation involves an intake of actual weight because being honest is mostly a responsibility to act according to a shared code. Being able to respect an ethical code, taking responsibility for one’s own actions, and being part of the group makes us honorable and gives us a virtuous status within society.

Being honest today

In TV shows and some public arenas the words “I’ll be honest with you” seem to constitute the premise to rambling and often offensive speeches where to vent all the low kind of thoughts one might have.

It’s a pity to bend the meaning of the word honesty to a form of social incontinence as if a person is honest only if she says whatever crosses her mind. I still believe that an honest human being is someone who can ponder the consequences of her deeds and words and decide what is worth to be noted–according to a common sense of goodness.

To conclude, I believe that if we keep praising incontinence rather than ponderable weight, we risk diluting and spoiling the sense of what once we considered honorable.