Among the more curious and enigmatic quotes that I read about today  was the following quote from Socrates, “An honest man is always a child.” As I sometimes do, I wanted to see what other people thought about this quote before diving in myself and reflecting on it, but what I found, while probably in the right ballpark, was not particularly profound. Perhaps because our age is full of young people who are in such a hurry to grow up that they do not appreciate (nor do others appreciate, sadly) what a blessing it is to be young and free from the cares and worries that come with being an adult or thinking like one, a quote like this can easily be seen as saying something bad about being honest. Those who view honesty as a sort of vulnerability to the trickery and evil of others certainly see in honesty a certain amount of vulnerability, and in a world where people are quick to take advantage, this is the sort of vulnerability that may easily seem like a luxury that we cannot afford.
I do not think this particular view of Socrates’ quote is really all that beneficial to us, if we wish to encourage ourselves and others to be people of basic honesty and integrity. Let us examine a few elements related to what it means to be a child, starting with a familiar passage of the Bible: Matthew 18:1-5: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!”” This is a familiar passage, and though it does not deal directly with honesty, it does state very clearly that being like a child in some fashion is necessary to enter into salvation, and that those who take advantage of the innocent will face fearsome judgment for it (given that it would be better for them not to be born). We ought to reflect, therefore, that it is very good, at least in some ways, to be like a child, regardless of the dangers that honest people face in a corrupt world where people seek to take advantage of the naive or to use the truth in order to destroy others.
What makes an honest man like a child though? Most children are not particularly good liars, with fairly obvious tells. This is not to say that children do not try to disguise and hide, but rather they do not tend to be very good at it, and for that we can be glad. It is hard enough to learn how to communicate what one thinks and feels and wants honestly when one is small that there is scarce capacity to engage in more complicated deception. Little ones are well known, and treasured, for their ability to say awkward and uncomfortable but often necessary truths. I tend to find such honesty rather pleasing, given that I tend to find it wearisome to deal with people who are not candid or open or interested in honest communication. Truly, if one wants honest communication, there are only a few places one can go to find communication, and it will generally be from those people who respond to open communication and who show themselves trustworthy over time.
Yet that is not all that is meant by honesty. I suppose it is not merely the lack of deception, but also the sensitivity to others and to the world around us that makes an honest man like a child. Honesty is not merely about the absence of lies, or merely the revealing of what is inside of us. Rather, it is also about being open to the world around us. This is a large part about why we need to be like children in order to find salvation, because salvation is not so much about seeing what is already within us, as New Age mystics would have us do, but rather to have the courage to accept truth and revelation from above, and to apply it in our lives. Such a willingness to grow and learn and mature and develop can only come when one retains something of the child inside of us, which reminds us that we are not so wise as we might be willing to think of ourselves. Let us hope we can all keep that nature of a child within us, regardless of how the world around us is. Let us do so with bravery, but with no illusions about how that world works.