Practice These Principles
Living the Spiritual Disciplines and Virtues in 12-Step Recovery

The Virtue of Honesty

Honesty is what gets us sober, and it begins in Step 1 when we finally surrender, admit our powerlessness and the unmanageability of our lives, and ask for help.

Honesty is essential to a searching self-examination in Step 4, to a candid confession in Step 5, and to sincere restitution in Step 9. Honesty works again through these three disciplines as they come together in Step 10, where we search for, admit, and make amends for wrongs as we do them, and in Step 11, where we constructively review our day when we retire at night.

[Image: Bill and Lois' apartment at 182 Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights, where Ebby carried the message to Bill and the NY group of AA would first meet.]

"Sometimes we need to place love ahead of indiscriminate ‘factual honesty.’ We cannot, under the guise of ‘perfect honesty,’ cruelly and unnecessarily hurt others. Always we must ask, ‘What is the best and most loving thing I can do.?’” – Bill W., in As Bill Sees It

“We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.” – Big Book

“Our basic troubles are the same as everyone else’s, but when an honest effort is made 'to practice these principles in all our affairs,' well-grounded A.A.’s seem to have the ability, by God’s grace, to take these troubles in stride and turn them into demonstrations of faith.” – 12&12

"If we say we have no fault, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." – 1st John 
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8

“There can never be any solid friendship between individuals, or union between communities, unless the parties be persuaded of each other’s honesty.” – Thucydides

“Where is there dignity unless there is honesty?” – Cicero


“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night follows day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” – William Shakespeare


“We know the truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart.” – Blaise Pascal

“What is uttered from the heart alone, will win the hearts of others to your own.” – Goethe

“A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.” – William Blake

“The trite saying that honesty is the best policy has met with the just criticism that honesty is not policy. The real honest man is honest from conviction of what is right, not from policy.” – Robert E. Lee

“One of the hardest things in this world is to admit you are wrong. And nothing is more helpful in resolving a situation than its frank admission.” 
– Benjamin Disraeli

“Make yourself an honest man, and then you may be sure there is one less rascal in the world.” – Thomas Carlyle

“When in doubt, tell the truth.” – Mark Twain

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

“To conceal ignorance is to increase it. An honest confession of it, however . . . gives ground for the hope that it will diminish someday.” – Mahatma Gandhi


“The truth brings with it a great measure of absolution.” – R. D. Laing

“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.” – Sigmund Freud

“People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.” – Eleanor Roosevelt 

"The truth is more important than the facts." – Frank Lloyd Wright

"Respect for the truth is an acquired taste." – Mark Van Doren

“The person who is brutally honest enjoys the brutality quite as much as the honesty. Possibly more." – Unknown

“To be honest is always to be open and fair. It is to act without guile or pretense. The honest person speaks the truth and acts justly, not because it is advantageous to do so, but simply because it is right to do so.” – Montague Brown, The One Minute Philosopher

“I will examine, with a sharp and honest eye, my own motives, for I need to do a lot of straight thinking about my own attitudes and actions.” – One Day at a Time in Al-Anon


“Honesty allows us to look at ourselves, to share our discoveries with God and others, to admit that we need spiritual help in moving forward, and to free ourselves by making amends for past wrongs.” – Al-Anon’s Courage to Change

“As we grow in our recovery, we begin to be honest in matters that probably hadn’t bothered us when we used. We start returning extra change a cashier may have given us by mistake, or admitting when we have hit a parked car. We find that if we can begin to be honest in these small ways, the bigger tests of our honesty become much easier to handle.” – Just for Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts

“We grow in honesty as we practice self-examination and confession, taking inventory of ourselves and admitting the exact nature of our wrongs.” – PTP


"Without growing in the virtue of honesty beyond the minimum required to admit we are powerless over alcohol, we cannot make progress in our practice of the discipline of self-examination in Step 4, of confession in Step 5, of restitution in Steps 9 and 10. And without such growth and progress, we cannot continue to change and achieve full sobriety." – PTP 

For more PTP passages on honesty, see pp. 73–75.  For more BB and 12&12 passages,
click on and search honesty and its variations. See also entries
in As Bill Sees It, and, on this website, "Dishonesty," in Character Defects.

Additional Resources

  1. Meditations for 01/14, 05/09, and 06/09 in One Day at a Time in Al-Anon
  2. Meditation for 06/23 in Al-Anon’s Courage to Change

  3. Meditation for 08/02 in NA's Just for Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts

  4. "Honesty," entry in Montague Brown's The One Minute Philosopher

  5. Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the novel and the 2003 BBC Masterpiece Theater film version (the character of Tess, played by Justine Waddell) 

For other posts on the virtues and the disciplines, please click on Practice These.