The Dynamics of Dishonesty
Bill Cottringer

“Accuracy is the twin brother of honesty; inaccuracy, of dishonesty.” ~Nathaniel Hawthorne.

One of the most important ingredients in any relationship is trust. Trust is enhanced by honesty, while dishonesty is a hungry termite that strips the foundation of trust. Understanding the dynamics of dishonesty can go a long way towards taming its impact on human relations and the quality of our lives. Below are the main interacting factors that drive dishonesty:

1. Experience. There has always been a close connection between what we expect and what we get. But we learn to expect from what we have gotten in past experiences. And so, if you do not frequently engage in dishonest acts, then you usually don’t get the negative consequences to expect them. On the other hand, and this follows the rule behind the gambler’s fallacy, if you have a dishonest lifestyle, there is a tendency to believe that continuing dishonest acts eventually must result in winning something without failure, sooner or later.

2. Timing. An important driver of dishonesty is perceived opportunity and timing is always related to opportunity—a particular situation, time of day or season, a time when you are dissatisfied or stressed or just a certain time in your life. When these elements of a perfect storm gather, the propensity for and probability of dishonesty increases. This is likely the basis for situational ethics.

3. Empathy. There is positive empathy that facilitates honesty which improves relationships and negative empathy that attracts dishonesty in exploiting relationships. Positive empathy strengthens relationships through acceptance, freedom and understanding, whereas negative empathy has unfortunate expertise in destroying relationships through judgment, control and misunderstanding.

4. Twins Within. We all have two terrible twins within—the ongoing battle between our good selves seeking the light by struggling to stay on the right path and our bad selves tempted to wander onto the wrong path leading to the dark side of life. An honest character can only be built by nurturing your good self and limiting the airtime of you bad twin. This is a life-long battle open to mitigating or aggravating influences from these other interacting factors.

5. Mindfulness. The more mindful a person is—living more with a focused awareness of the now moment without drifting back to the past or wandering/wondering ahead to the future—then honesty pervades. Dishonesty is based more on the past and future rather than the present, and this un-mindfulness allows the other dishonesty drivers to destructively aggravate the interactions, rather than productively mitigate them.

6. Morality. Having an over-active conscience—achieved by critical thinking and not imposed by parents or religion—I find it hard to comprehend the absence of a true North compass that knows right from wrong, but I suppose it is possible. At any rate, a person’s send of morality, whether imposed or learned, has a strong influence on making choices to act honestly or dishonestly. The most sensible take on truth and morality, is that these things are tentative at best and continually evolving. And fortunately, honesty appears to be a winning part of the survival of the fittest gene.

7. Thinking. We think about all these other dynamics, both consciously and unconsciously. In turn, this process leads to choices and decision-making in what to say or how to act. The truth be known, much of human thinking and motivation is below our immediate conscious awareness. Becoming your best, honest self, requires a great effort to translate unconscious thoughts and motivations over to your conscious mind. This can only be achieved by metathinking—thinking about your thinking. And it is the only way to get on the high ethical rode and be honest when nobody is looking, when the circumstances may favor dishonesty, or being honest is most difficult.

Thinking about how all these seven dynamics can work together positively to sustain honesty or negatively to continue dishonesty, will help nurture the good twin within, bringing more success and happiness than if you feed your bad twin too much.

“He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it the second time.” ~Thomas Jefferson.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA, along with being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living on the scenic Snoqualmie River and mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, Re-Braining for 2000 (MJR Publishing); The Prosperity Zone (Authorlink Press); You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too (Executive Excellence); The Bow-Wow Secrets (Wisdom Tree); Do What Matters Most and “P” Point Management (Atlantic Book Publishers); Reality Repair, (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Publish America); Thoughts on Happiness; Pearls of Wisdom: A Dog’s Tale (Covenant Books, Inc.) Coming soon: A Cliché a day will keep the Vet Away (Another Dog’s Tale). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 652-8067 or