In one very real sense, a chapter about the quality of honesty in dogs is bizarre. Surely, honesty, and dishonesty, are terms that exclusively describe human tendencies. When the term “dishonest” is used to describe a person, most often we are describing an effort by that person to deceive another. It is a description of someone who intentionally is trying to mislead or misinform us.
But in terms of honesty, or dishonesty, what I am about to say probably applies to all animals; I don’t know. Namely, that if there was one animal on Planet Earth that is incapable of guile or deceit, it has to be the dog. There is no doubt in my mind that dogs remain one of the most beautiful gifts nature has bestowed upon us humans.
Now that last bold statement is not to imply that dogs don’t try to manipulate us humans; far from it. Their attempts at manipulation would impress any three-year-old child! But there’s nothing dishonest about a dog trying to manipulate its owner into giving the dog whatever it wants; they are far too obvious in their motives and methods. As I read somewhere, dogs are: “Just scavengers looking for a way to get something with minimal effort.”
Thus I think we can take it as a given that dogs are honest; fundamentally so.
OK, dear reader, you have no way of knowing that after writing that last sentence, I sat staring at the screen for a good ten minutes. I didn’t know how to continue the theme. I couldn’t think of anything to add to what every “good person and true” knows, and has known since time immemorial: honesty is a fundamental aspect of being a good person; the enviable of all titles, as George Washington is reputed to have said.
What was exercising my brain was to come at the subject of honesty in a way that offered a compelling reason for being honest; over and above the natural assumption about honesty, that it is so blindingly obvious not to require being spelt out; in a manner of speaking. It struck me that honesty is very different to the majority of the other qualities that we need to learn from dogs.
Different in the sense that the other qualities are open to being embraced as something that may be learnt, with clear rewards from so doing, whereas honesty seems a fundamental, core way of relating to the world around one. Mind you, there was a tiny voice in my head that was nagging away at me that said that honesty may not be so ‘black and white’. For example, the question of ‘white lies’. But, at heart, I was still lost as to how to proceed.
So, I spent another thirty minutes exploring the web looking for clarity; looking for some inspiration. Yet those web searches just ended up confusing me more. About the least confusing item I came across, more or less at random, was a section from an article read on the website The New Atlantis. The full article was entitled: The truth about human nature.
The section that I read, and is reproduced below, seemed to confirm in my mind that honesty; something that, by rights, should be so fundamentally understood, was anything but simple.
Since Nietzsche, the choice of which version of ourselves we identify with has been widely understood as a choice between lying and truth-telling — to ourselves as much as to others. The moral ideal has become authenticity — a particular kind of honesty. Of course, just about any philosophical ideal is grounded in some sort of honesty: the search for Truth requires truth. Yet Aristotle describes honesty as a virtue only of self-presentation — the balance between self-deprecation and boastfulness. And Plato never lists honesty as a virtue at all, and even distinguishes between “true lies” and useful or noble lies. From the modern to the post-modern era, honesty and authenticity shifted to become much of the telos of life, where before they had been but means in our progress toward that end.
Here was me looking for clarity only to find anything but that!
So what to make of all this?
I am going to fall back on the ideas expressed in the chapter on community. Rather on the closing words of that chapter, “… the power of sharing, of living a local community life, may just possibly be the difference between failure and survival of us humans.’
There’s a sense of hope in me that we are heading for an era of new localism that will, in and of itself, reinforce a culture of honesty in one’s life. Why such hope? Because there are signs. Such as this one: the growing concern about factory farming, surfacing as increasingly more vibrant local food movements, demonstrating that people are really scrutinising where their food comes from. More than that! There are increasing concerns as to where our medicines are made and the possible side-effects, and a dawning awareness of how we are living on the backs of exploited third world workers (and poorly paid service workers here at home). Possibly all under a global umbrella of awareness that big government is no longer working as it should be; evidenced by falling voter turnout numbers at key elections in the USA and many other countries.
My hope is that this growing ‘honesty’ about the reality of our present world and where it appears to be heading is at the heart, in my opinion, of an expanding local consciousness permeating the hearts and minds of many people, leading them to want to become more “local.”
Should this come about, and I hope that it does in my lifetime, then an honesty of thought and deed will be, nay, has to be, a core attribute of life in a well-functioning local community.
982 words. Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover￼￼
 As in an end or purpose of life