Honesty: 1) the quality or fact of being honest; upright and fairness. 2) truthfulness, sincerity, or frankness. 3) freedom from deceit or fraud. (from www.dictionary.com ).
Most of us in Western culture (and many others) are verbally taught as a kid that honesty is important. One of the Christian/Judaism Ten Commandments is “Thou shalt not lie.” But the key in that sentence is we are verbally taught. What we see happening around us is often quite different, and recent studies suggest it is what we learn on a hidden level that has most effect. For instance, last week I wrote about peanut butter, and about how my mom let me know not to tell Dad I was getting crunchy peanut butter on my toast when he was not around. Or the “white lies,” when you have heard Dad say Aunt Jane’s new hair color looks horrible, but when she asks what he thinks he says, “It’s nice — it makes you look younger.” He knows that is what Aunt Jane wants to hear, and it is easier on a social level to keep her happy. We sometimes lie by omission (as in not telling Dad about the crunchy peanut butter), and sometimes we lie by commission (Aunt Jane’s hair color).
In some cultures, kids are taught it is a great skill to lie convincingly. Sometimes it is part of an us versus them mentality, when you tell a fabricated story to a foreigner or someone outside the family clan. Perhaps it is a form of protection. I remember my mom telling me how to lie if I needed to . . . that including part of the truth makes it more believable, and it works better if you do not say too much.
The problem with lying is it can be addictive. If you get away with it once, you are apt to try it again. Kids do that, and if they are caught in a lie, how it is handled makes a big difference in whether they continue. The more you lie, the more you tend to believe other people are lying. People lie because they do not want to get in trouble. People lie because they have issues of self-worth, and want others to think better of them. People lie because others try to control them, and lying is a way of taking back control. There are dozens of reasons why people lie, and whether the reasons are good or bad depends on your point of view.
Is it more virtuous to lie or not to lie? There is a song, “Long, Black Veil,” about a man who is condemned to death because his alibi is that he was with his best friend’s wife. He does not tell, nor does the woman, and after the accused is dead she walks the hills in a long, black veil. I have always hated that song, because a man’s life is ended to maintain a lie. I had a friend who thought it was a great song, because they lied to uphold honor and friendship.
Have you ever noticed older people have a tendency to be more blunt? Sometimes it is because they figure they have a right to their opinions because of their age. Might it also be because they have seen in the long run it is better to be honest?
Is honesty the best policy? I guess my response is, it depends. I try to be an honest person in all of my dealings, but I do not use that honesty as a weapon to hurt people.
What do you think about honesty?
P.S. (February 2019) Just discovered a video you might find interesting, about why people lie. It features Pamela Meyer, who wrote Liespotting.