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Is There Such a Thing as Being 'Too Honest' and Is 'Honesty Always the Best Policy'?

So is there such a thing as being 'too honest?' No doubt your parents brought you up by telling you that lying was wrong and that you should always tell the truth. Likewise you then went on to bring up your own children by giving them the same message, actively praising them for being honest and reprimanding them when you caught them lying. But is the message we are giving them correct, or is it possible we should really be teaching them diplomatic skills instead?

Sometimes honesty is not the best option but diplomacy is, which may mean not being 100% truthful when we are confronted by certain situations, or when we are asked awkward questions. Other times honesty may not always be the best policy include occasions when we are lying to protect someone who needs our help, not always of course, e.g. committing perjury is obviously a big 'no', but there are definitely cases where being too honest is a bad thing and telling a lie is the better option.

I have written this hub to offer examples of situations when you might need to seriously weigh up whether you are at risk of being too honest, and whether you might be better off editing the truth, telling a small lie, or even a stonking great major lie rather than going down the 'honesty is the best policy' line of thinking.

I have always prided myself on being someone who is incredibly honest, and I would go so far as to say that I have a phobia of liars in general, but am I being a hypocrite here, after all I have lied many times in my life? Before you recoil at what a terrible person I must be and declare how much I have gone down in your estimation, stop, allow me to explain what I mean by saying I have lied in the past.

There have been many occasions where friends have asked me if I like their new outfit or their new hair style. Sometimes they have asked me if I think they are fat, ugly etc. Now I am not going to turn to someone and hurt their feelings by telling them that, yes, they do look awful with their new hair cut or that they really are rather ugly and could do with losing a load of weight, (possibly followed by plastic surgery.) I have frequently been woken up by telephone calls from friends at times when I am actually asleep, but if they ask if they woke me up I will avoid making them feel bad and simply say, 'it's okay, I was awake and getting up now anyway'. These are just a few examples, but I am sure you get my drift.

My point is that even as someone who prides themselves on their honesty I have lied in certain circumstances, but I think I lied for the right reasons. Here are just a few more examples of occasions when I believe that being too honest would be a mistake, and lying would be the better option.

Acceptable Occasions to Lie

  • When asked by your friend if you think she is too fat it might be better to point out that men usually prefer a woman who is 10 lbs overweight rather than 10 lbs underweight rather than saying, "Well yes you are very fat, you already know that or you wouldn't be asking."
  • When you are at a dinner party and you don't like the food it is far more polite (and kind) to say you enjoyed it immensely, rather than admitting you hated it.
  • When your friend has a new hairstyle that really doesn't suit her, it is more diplomatic to lie, especially as she can't exactly stick the hair back on again if has been cut badly. What you can do is gently make suggestions to enhance her look in other ways (and therefore make the best of a bad situation.)
  • If you know that by giving out a friend's phone number it is likely to cause them a problem (e.g. bullying, stalking etc), it is better to lie and either say you don't have it, or that you have agreed never to give out their phone number without their prior consent.
  • When your in-laws come to stay you may well have plenty of occasions where you need to tell white lies.
  • When a relative is terminally ill and their doctor has told you the bad news, but advised that it is not in your relative's best interests for them to be told, or at least not yet. If that same relative then asks you what the doctor has said you might have to lie in order to protect them. This actually happened to me with my late husband when he was first diagnosed with bowel cancer, (and was recovering from the initial surgery that discovered it.)
  • When you want to keep the magic of Christmas alive for your child by telling them that Santa exists (and comes down the chimney to leave your presents, after first arriving on a flying sleigh pulled by reindeer) you are obviously telling them a lie, but with the intention of making Christmas extra special for them.
  • When concealing a surprise from a friend, relation or partner, e.g. a surprise party or a romantic marriage proposal.
  • When your friend's baby or child is ugly you will probably lie and say they are cute rather than offending your friend.
  • If you know your friend is married but having an affair, you might lie to their spouse in order to make your friend do the right thing and either end the marriage or break off the affair.
  • When we 'enhance' our resume/curriculum vitae in order to increase our chances of landing our dream job. We know the other applicants are probably doing the same thing, so to be in with a chance of even getting an interview we embellish a little on the truth.

Can You Be Too Honest?

  • When explaining to a child what happens to us after we die we may tell them about Heaven, Angels with wings etc. In actual fact we don't know in this instance if we are lying or not, and as we aren't dead yet we will have to wait to find out. I believe this possible lie is acceptable if it makes a death easier for your child to cope with, or if the child knows they themselves are terminally ill.
  • If you knew a pet or person that was in pain when they died, you might lie and say they had not suffered rather than making the grief worse for the bereaved left behind. In this case the truth would be cruel and serve no real purpose.
  • When your friend writes a poem, book or article and asks your opinion you will normally say you enjoyed it, (even if you didn't) so you don't offend them or hurt their feelings.
  • You lie when your boss tells a joke and you laugh your head off declaring how funny the joke was even though it wasn't, (we all have to protect our jobs, right?)
  • When your new boyfriend or girlfriend asks you how many previous sexual partners you have had you might well lie to avoid putting them off or scaring them away. This may result in you choosing to reduce the actual number of partners you have had considerably.
  • When you tell your current partner they are the best lover you have ever had this is often far from the truth.
  • When an abusive spouse is looking for their partner who is actually hiding out in your home you would probably lie and say you hadn't seen them.

Of course there are many more examples of acceptable lies that I have missed as the list is endless. The bottom line is that there are many occasions when we lie and where we risk being too honest if we tell the truth. Sometimes we do technically the wrong thing, but for the right reasons, and in my book that is okay.

Is It Okay To Lie?


Bertie on July 27, 2019:

should I tell my brother I hate this wife? he won't visit me without her. She talks too much, interrupting and knows everything. I really want to tell him not to bring her along but he won't stand up to her!

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on March 17, 2012:

Thanks Seeker7, that is a great and detailed comment to receive. You are right to say that a human who 'always tells the truth' is most likely a 'callous and cold hearted' individual.

Also thank you for the vote up :)

Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on March 17, 2012:

Read More From Pairedlife

Hi Misty - great hub and I'm relieved to know, bad liar as I am, I'm in good company! LOL!

I honestly get really suspicious of people who maintain they never lie or even the ones who are adament that they are always honest - no way! If it is the case that we have some humans who always tell the truth, then all I can say is that they must very callous and cold hearted!

Great hub Misty, gives a lot of food for thought. Voted up!

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on March 17, 2012:

Hi Paradise7, thanks for commenting. What you describe is a classic example of why it is often necessary to lie to keep the peace and avoid conflict.Thank you again for sharing this example :)

Paradise7 from Upstate New York on March 17, 2012:

I have a close relative who has issues with mental illness. There are many times it's very important to soften certain information rather than lay it on the line in a hard way to this person. One must be so very careful. She takes even neutral comments as negative aspersions on her looks or personality. So many times, I've been quite a little bit less than truthful, rather than have her get all obsessive about something for weeks and weeks.

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on March 17, 2012:

Thanks Rajan, glad you liked this and agree with the points I was trying to make here :)

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on March 17, 2012:

Hi bob, I loved your comment about the errr 'piercings', made me literally laugh out loud. You are right of course about kindness and diplomacy coming with age and experience :)

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on March 17, 2012:

Thanks for commenting VioletSun, I am really pleased you enjoyed this hub :)

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on March 17, 2012:

Thanks for commenting MelChi, that is true, maybe you could have shared far more memories and taken her to different places if she had told you about the Cancer, but maybe she didn't want people to start treating her differently, looking at her with pity or sorrow. Perhaps she just wanted normality for as long as possible. No doubt she wanted to spare her loved ones the pain of knowing for as long as it was feasible. It was the right decision for her, and that it was really matters in the end.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on March 17, 2012:

Misty, I agree we all do lie at some point of time and mostly to make the opposite person feel better. No one is perfect so we might as well make someone happy if it does not hurt anyone.

Great write.

voted up. Useful.

diogenes from UK and Mexico on March 17, 2012:

I have often pondered this one. For a start, who can tell if a negative opinion about someone is accurate, and it's often unkind. Usually, people who crticize others under the guise of "just being honest" are insecure themselves and trying to bolster a tattered ego.

There are times to be brutally honest "No, I don't think 18 metal rings in your clitoris would make you more attractive to Boris." And times to be more diplomatic. "It's what YOU think that matters, dear, not whether I or anyone else thinks you're overweight."

Kindness and diplomacy comes with age and experience.


VioletSun from Oregon/ Name: Marie on March 17, 2012:

Cindy, You wrote a very honest hub! :) Being cruel or rude for the sake of being honest is not a wise thing to do unless we can help the person. Honesty in the sense of integrity, that I go for 100 per cent.

Melanie Chisnall from Cape Town, South Africa on March 16, 2012:

These are all so true! Great hub, and I've done a 'little white lie' on pretty much all of the above at one point or another. However, when my Mother-in-law became ill with Cancer, she only told us about it a few months before she passed away. I can understand why she didn't tell us right away, she wanted to spare us the pain - and that was her right. But, I can't help and wonder how many more things we could have done together, places we could have taken her, and memories we could have shared had she told us when she first found out.

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on March 16, 2012:

Thanks Kelly, I totally agree that if being truthful is going to hurt someone or make them feel bad, then the lie is the right thing to do. Sounds like you think the same way I do :)

Thanks so much for commenting :)

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on March 16, 2012:

Well Misty I guess I AM a big fat liar! lol. I do agree there are times when we have to lie. I do NOT like it either and I pride myself on not being a liar but I admit doing it for sure. You've given so many good examples as to when and how it might become nice to lie! I think I've lied for almost every reason you stated. If the trtuth will hurt someone - I'm never sure of the value of rubbing that in. Truths can be harsh and no one wants a person around who can't be nice regardless of what they really think. I find myself trying to find ways to tell half truths. Like if a person says am I fat? I try to not answer it or go around it really. Or I will ask a question with a question. Like "is anyone perfect?" lol

Up and very interesting!

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