Xin or trustworthiness is a traditional Chinese virtue. The Chinese tradition considered trustworthiness to be extremely important: “Without trustworthiness a person has no standing.” That is to say that if a person loses his credibility and good reputation, then he has no standing in society. To be trustworthy, to possess credibility and good reputation, first, one has to be honest and second, one has to be reliable. This honesty and reliability includes many things, and below are some points I’ve learned from my study of trustworthiness, honesty and reliability:
- Speak honestly; say only what is true.
- Do not lie.
- Do not exaggerate.
- Do not distort the truth.
- Do not deliberately mislead people such that they get a false impression, even if in doing so one may not “technically” be lying.
- If asked about something that you should not tell or do not want to tell, such as your or others’ confidential or secret information, then you should answer, “Sorry, I cannot (or should not, or do not want to) tell you that.” You must not make up a lie to answer the question with.
- Don’t lightly speak out on or spread information about matters that you are not sure of.
- What you say counts; always admit to what you have said. (Chinese saying: “What a gentleman has said, even a fast chariot cannot bring back.”)
- If you do not know or are not sure of something, honestly admit it; don’t pretend you know.
- When you don’t understand or are not clear on what the other person has said, ask until you are clear; don’t pretend you understand.
- When you know that the other person has misunderstood what you say or what you want, clear up the misunderstanding in time. Do not pretend to not know about it and not clear things up.
- Don’t intentionally put down (denigrate) other people.
- Don’t toady to or be obsequious to rich or powerful people.
- Don’t gossip about others; don’t participate in creating rumors and slanders.
- If you have done something wrong, admit it.
- If what you have done wrong has harmed others, compensate them.
- If you realize you are doing something wrong, correct it immediately.
- Welcome other people pointing out your mistakes and shortcomings; never get angry, attack or retaliate.
- Don’t cover up your mistake by lying, distorting the truth, or deliberately misleading people.
- Never get others to cover up your mistake by lying, distorting the truth, or deliberately misleading people.
- Never allow others to deceive people about or cover up your mistake; if you find out you must stop it.
- Don’t lightly make promises; if you don’t know whether you can do something or not, don’t promise doing it; the most you can promise is to try your best to do it. (Chinese saying, by Laozi: “Lightly promise, seldom trustworthy.”)
- Reliably carry out your promises; always do what you say you will do. (Chinese saying: “A promise is worth a thousand ounces of gold.”)
- A lot of contracts and matters, like marriage, parenting, and selling, have responsibilities and obligations that are well-known, customary, and often backed by law, responsibilities and obligations that go without saying. When you enter into such contracts and matters, people expect and count on you to meet those obligations. So as soon as you enter into these contracts and matters, without having said so you have made implied promises to meet each of those responsibilities and obligations. For example, there are implied promises to stay together for life for better or for worse in marriage, to care for the children on becoming parents, and to guarantee a certain quality in selling. Reliably carry out all of your implied promises.
- If you want to enter into a contract or matter that has implied promises but you want to cancel some or all of the implied promises, then you must first, beforehand, reach a clear agreement with all parties involved to let you cancel. For example, if a store conducting a clearance sale doesn’t want to guarantee the quality of the goods, which is an implied promise in normal selling, the store must put up big signs saying, “All sales final; no returns”. By buying despite seeing such signs, the customer is agreeing to let the store cancel guaranteeing the quality of the goods. If you don't first have an agreement to cancel some or all implied promises and you still enter the contract or matter, then you must reliably carry out each and all of them.
- If circumstances force you to become unable to carry out a promise or part of a promise, warn the other party as soon as possible so that it can take measures to avoid or limit losses.
- If your not carrying out a promise or part of a promise causes losses to the other party, compensate it.
- Always exert your best effort to completely and punctually fulfill your tasks and responsibilities in work and study.
- To reward and punish correctly is an implied promise to those under you: always reward those who have performed well and always punish those who have committed offenses. (Chinese historical example: Prime Minister Cao Cao cuts off his hair as punishment for breaking his own rules.)
- Don’t cheat to get things.
- Don’t steal things, even when it’s very easy to steal.
- Don’t take anything that is not yours.
- When you see something someone has lost, do your best to return it; don’t keep it for yourself. (Chinese saying: “Don’t pick up things left on the road.”)
- If other people give you money or things by mistake, including giving you remuneration that far exceeds what you deserve, refuse to accept.
- If other people give you money or things by mistake and you have accepted them at first because you didn’t know, then when you find out immediately give them back.
- Strictly respect other people’s property; don’t use other people’s things if you haven’t asked and received permission. (Chinese saying: “When using other people’s things, one must clearly ask. If one doesn’t ask, then it is stealing.”)
- When borrowing things return them on time.
- Look after the things well that you have borrowed so that you can return them in the original condition.
- If the things that you’ve borrowed have been damaged then compensate the person you’ve borrowed them from.
- When borrowing money always pay it back on time, according to the schedule agreed to.
- When borrowing money and the agreement includes paying interest then always pay the money back on time with interest.
- Whenever you give or take money or things, make sure you have made matters completely clear to the people involved. (Chinese saying: “When taking and giving, what's important is to make everything clear.”)
- When buying something, honestly answer with your needs and your situation when asked by the seller. Don’t treat him like he’s going to take advantage of you and give him wrong information. If you are worried about his price or quality, you can still be open and aboveboard and just go visit other sellers to compare prices and quality. If his price is high but you still want to buy from him (e.g. you know him well), you can say, “Your price is high; can you match so-and-so’s price?”
- When you have bought something, always pay according to the agreed amount and time schedule.
- When you are selling and have accepted a purchase or an order, or when the buyer has paid, always deliver the good or service according to the agreed quantity, quality, and delivery time schedule.
- When you have confirmed a business contract always carry out the terms.
- Even when the person you are dealing with is ignorant, old, weak, handicapped or of low intelligence, don’t take advantage of him or her – that was what the sign in shops in traditional China meant in saying “we don’t take advantage of old people or children”.
- If an agreement or contract is not extremely simple or is not to last for only a very short time, then use pen and paper to write things down clearly and have each side keep a copy.
- Respect other people’s confidential and secret information; don’t leak other people’s confidential or secret information, including an enterprise's business secrets.
To people in the time of traditional China, trustworthiness was more important than most things. In the chapter Yan Yuan in the book The Analects, Confucius said that when governing, if necessary one could do without an army and even without food, but one could not do without trustworthiness. He also continued on to say, “Since ancient times there has always been death, but without trustworthiness the people cannot stand.”
This trustworthiness is the credibility and good reputation of a person or a government, their dependability and reliability. Only when one has trustworthiness, that is, only when one has credibility, good reputation, dependability, and reliability, can one have standing in the world. Lying, creating false impressions and misleading, betraying trust and casting away honor, not carrying out or not even admitting to promises - when other people hear of such behaviors, they will distrust and avoid dealings involving you.
During the Eastern Han Dynasty, someone said to the incorruptible official Yang Zhen, “Take it; it’s the middle of night and no one knows!” Yang Zhen replied, “Heaven knows, Earth knows, you know, and I know; how can you say no one knows?” Ashamed, the would-be briber picked up his gold and left.
No matter how superb their intrigue and deception, dishonest people may make temporary gains but will not be trusted or put into important positions. Perhaps even more importantly, they will come to know only using trickery to “win”, and will not realize that the sustainable and long-term way to win is to develop real ability and make real contributions. Thus, no matter how great their talent and ability, often through their whole lives dishonest people cannot succeed or be happy.
On the other hand, often people who have talent and ability that are perhaps not that outstanding, but who are honest and reliable, are trusted and put into important positions, and become successful and happy both at work and at home. Of course, if a person has honesty and reliability in addition to great talent and ability then his or her future will be limitless indeed.
Likewise, if the people in a country are generally honest and reliable, that is, they are trustworthy, then in that country people's work will be conscientious, the quality of products and studies will be high, people will more easily trust each other, dealings among people will flow smoothly, and because of that the economy will be well-developed, the technology will be top notch, and the country will be rich and its people strong.
Yes, as the saying goes, “great wisdom doesn’t seem clever”: honesty and reliability, that is, trustworthiness or xin, are actually the smart method and the secret, to success in life for individuals as well as for whole countries.
- 不蓄意誤導別人、使別人產生錯覺，儘管嚴格來說，這樣做或許“沒有撒謊” 。