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The Forum > General Discussion > Is honesty really the best policy?

Is honesty really the best policy?

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Is a half truth still a whole lie? Does holding back the truth constitute lying by omission thus another version of dishonesty? How highly does society value Honesty.

Honesty can define who we are. Personal integrity is always put on the line when figuring out whether to fib or not. Integrity/Credibility is bit like virginity, once you have lost it you can’t get it back

At one end of the scale there is the little white lie that does no great harm. At the other end of the scale there are situations where telling the truth results in life altering consequences (ie: for whistle-blowers).

As a child we learn that deviating from the truth means punishment can be avoided. If the truth is voiced then it is highly probable that punishment of some sort is going to follow. So we learn from a young age that Honesty may not be the best policy. It’s with this concept that we enter the adult world.

With the advent of the globalization of the business world, thus increasing cut-throat competition, its often the best rhetoric based on what the customer wants to hear that prevails. Not the full truth.

Our politicians are truth adverse. If they were absolutely honest they would never get elected.

If an error was made by a service provider you can bet your bottom dollar full admission of this error would likely never occur. Why? Because being honest may possibly be met with punishment- ie: litigation. Therefore, it is reinforced that Honesty is not the best policy.

Being honest with those in our life serves to increase our vulnerability and the potential of rejection. Again, another negative outcome.

It seems that society is geared up to encourage a less than honest approach to life. At times there is more to gain or alternatively, less to loose, if dishonesty is chosen.

So taking into consideration the points raised I pose this question: Is Honesty really the best policy?
Posted by TammyJo, Sunday, 13 April 2008 5:32:56 PM
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Wow, TammyJo, you have really opened up a can of worms here. This is a debate in which I would dearly love to see more people engage because its always been very pertinent to me - as a person who strives for integrity, as a parent, as a jounalist and as an educator.

I've a friend who maintains that every single person lies. He doesn't distinguish between the answer to a "Does my bum look fat in this?" question or a "Did you beat that old lady over the head?" question.

So if he asks me a question whose answer does not fit in with his suppositions he merely thinks I am lying. And he sees nothing wrong in lying himself. I always feel a lesser person in encounters with him because I can't claim integrity. In his view because I have been proved guilty on occasion, of replying to a shop assistants "How are you to-day?" with "I'm o.k." when I actually wasn't, I'm a proven liar.

The sad, sad thing is that experience has taught me that this particular person's outlook is not unique. My sons once asked me what the point was in telling the truth to such people when they will never believe it anyway. I eventually managed to convince them that personal integrity is not reliant on what other people think or believe...but deep down I fully understood their confusion.

I think perhaps that there are a lot of people who don't think there is any point in being truthfull if they won't be believed. They are not bad people, but perhaps if you don't value truth for its own sake then it loses its value?
Posted by Romany, Monday, 14 April 2008 11:24:02 AM
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Dear TammyJo,

I have told my children never to lie, and yet in the next breath,
I answer the phone and tell someone, "She's not home right now!"

We lie all the time.

"Love your haircut!" "Love that jumper!" "I can't go out - I'm washing my hair!"

A lot of lies we tell are pro-social and help us get along with people better. Deception is extremely functional and very much a part of the fabric of our lives.

At the same time, trust is an essential element in all relationships
be they social or economic. Broken trust, when accompanied by deception is hard to repair.

The good news? Trust is less fragile than most of us think. And a promise to change things followed by visible positive actions can go a long way in mending trust.

Is honesty really the best policy? Basically, I feel that it's a
judgement call. It depends on the circumstances and situation.

Of course, I'll continue to tell my children to "never lie."

And of course, they'll promise to obey...

Such is life!
Posted by Foxy, Monday, 14 April 2008 1:30:22 PM
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The lack of consequences for telling the truth leads to more and more lies. We see politicians of all persuasions lie in order to get elected. They hope that most people will forget by the time the next election comes around and people often do.

Some cultures and even religions teach that it is okay to lie because the end justifies the means. As is pointed out by many of our posters Mr Bush went to war on the pretense of weapons of mass destruction. Whether he really knew or not I am not prepared to judge.

Jesus warned that we would be judged by every word that comes out of our mouth. Why? Because what we say is really an overflow of what is in our hearts. All men lie to different degrees. Only One man never lied in His life. Of course that is the Lord Jesus Christ. His words are the most trustworthy words available and are just as relevant today as they were 2000 years ago. Those who attempt to follow His life will become more and more honest while others will justify their own deceit
Posted by runner, Monday, 14 April 2008 6:47:47 PM
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TammyJo, great intro.

I tend to think that the divider between lies and white lies is where the advantage sits. If I'm not upfront with the truth to gain advantage for myself or to disadvanage another then it's a lie. If it's to save unnecessary hurt to another with no likelyhood of harm then it's a different issue.

Part of that is based on an assumption that there are questions where we can reasonably believe that the asker either expects us to filter the answer or has no valid right to all the detail.

If someone asks what I did on the weekend and I want to keep some parts of my weekend private I might maintain some privacy but I've not robbed the other of something that should have been theirs or gained advantage for myself other than keeping that which should be mine to keep.

The "Does my bum look big in this?" question is a tricky one. If the bum really does look big and the answer is "No" is it to save hurt feelings or to avoid an untimely death? Whatever the motive it's a brave person who answers "Yes" to that one in the wrong company.

Posted by R0bert, Monday, 14 April 2008 7:24:21 PM
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Honesty is a most desirable virtue. (Duh.) I also think it's built in to us — nothing to do with religion. We all seem to aspire toward it and most people feel it is their default position — people love to tell you that they're terribly liars, and we all know the uneasy sense of shame we feel when we fib. (Proper lies, not the "no, it looks lovely" variety.) Humans, I think, love the truth, the vast majority of us are driven toward making our own discoveries of truth in our particular arena — science, art, spirituality and — dare I say it — public affairs.

Despite all this, the fashionable — and I think intellectually lazy — view is cynicism. Everyone thinks politicians are liars — yet every pollie I've ever met has an awful, over-exposed life without being able to spend enough time with their family and without earning as much as they did when they were a QC. Or whatever. And is basically doing it for the greater good — the believe they know the truth about how to manage this country better, they desire to communicate it. They may occasionally tell lies in the course of their careers for politically expedient purposes, but far less frequently, I reckon, than the lazy Aussie they're-all-a-packa-b@stards mentality would suggest.

Our problem is not dishonesty, in my view, but distrust. "I can trust myself," we say, "but not my neighbour, or my mother-in-law, or my prime minister", all of whom we believe are motivated by much baser desires than ourselves, and who routinely lie.

So in answer to your question, Tammy, I reckon our society has major problems — it values banality over depth and wealth over public service — but I do think we value honesty and people are genuinely shocked when others lie.

Having said that we all need to work hard to make sure honesty is valued and our allegiance to it isn't just theoretical
Posted by Vanilla, Monday, 14 April 2008 7:50:38 PM
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