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.]

“The deception of others is almost always rooted in the deception of ourselves.”
– 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

“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

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

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

“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

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

“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

“If it is not right, do not do it; if it is not true, do not say it.” – Marcus Aurelius

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

“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” – Abraham Lincoln

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

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

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


"We're only too ready to look outside ourselves for the reasons for our afflictions, when the real enemy is self-deception." – One Day at a Time in


“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

“When we look back from the vantage point of sobriety, many of us realize that when drinking we often felt like a fake, a fraud, and a phony. That’s because we were.” – PTP

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

Additional Resources

  1. Meditation for August 2 in Just for Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts

  2. 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) 
  3. Saul’s Rejection” (04/19/15), sermon on self-deception by Tim Keller, author of The Reason for God and other works. MP3 $2.50, CD & MP4 $4.00. Video preview  

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