Would you be embarrassed if your family and friends saw a videotape of your previous year 24/7?

From the time artists begin studying their craft, they concern themselves with the "values" of colors. For example, pure white may have a value of ten and pure black a value of one, with many shades (and values) of gray in between. If artists continue to dilute or add a different pigment to a particular color, they will no longer be able to identify the original color. Whether they are working in pastels, oils, or watercolors, a great challenge for artists is to keep their colors true and pure. No artist wants to end up with "mud," a noncolor. When something contaminates the purity of the color, the artist has to start over.

Portrait artists also must stay true to their subject. In the process of sketching the basic lines and adding and blending color and shading, it may become tempting to leave out a slight blemish, straighten a nose, or flatten the ears to make the final portrait "better." The artists may think the change is only a slight one, but those who know the subject of the portrait will immediately recognize that something isn't quite right.

The same process occurs where honesty is concerned. Most people start with a "pure" idea of what honesty is and distinct lines around things they consider dishonest: lying, stealing, or marital infidelity, for example. But then something happens to dilute, shade, or discolor these lines. The once clear picture of what honesty looks like begins to fade and becomes gray, then grayer, and finally invisible to the naked eye. The idea of honesty is no longer a clear, distinctive habit or character trait, and now the once clearly wrong action looks unclear and muddy.

Corporate America has spawned a myriad of managers who say to employees, "Do what you have to do—just don't tell me about it." They aren't above breaking the rules to achieve a goal, but they want to feel guilt-free if a subordinate's methods are less than moral. Pity the poor person who must try to walk the tightrope between producing results and protecting a manager's conscience.

Your Signature Life: Pursuing God's best every day
Dianna Booher
Tyndale House;
(December 2003),
220 pages, $13.99

Even parents get caught up in this focus on façade. To "Johnny" or "Jordan" Mom or Dad may yell, "I'd better not catch you sneaking the car out with your friends when we're gone for the weekend" or "Don't let me catch you cheating on a test, or you'll be grounded for a month!" Although parents may intend to curb a child's tendency toward dishonesty, their language in such warnings places the focus on not being "caught" rather than on being honest in the first place. As a result, many people come to adulthood measuring honesty by this standard: What can I do "under the radar screen"? In other words, how much can I get away with?

Untreated portraits exposed to the atmosphere become faded and discolored over time. Such discoloration doesn't happen all at once; it happens gradually as dust and air affect the canvas and the paint. In the same way, the honesty aspect of our character doesn't become faded or discolored all at once. The loss of clarity and "pure color" takes place in small increments related to seemingly small or insignificant choices we make day by day over a long period of time. The chart below lists examples of these seemingly small daily choices that can, over time, discolor your character portrait the same way tiny particles of dirt cause a beautiful painting to lose the color it once had. You may want to review this list to start your thinking about ways dishonesty may have crept into your situation or lifestyle:

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