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Can You Be Too Honest, and Is Honesty Always the Best Policy?

Cindy has been a writer for a number of years. She enjoys sharing her life experiences and what they have taught her.

Being Too Honest

So is there such a thing as being 'too honest?' No doubt your parents brought you up to believe that lying is wrong and that you should always tell the truth. You probably went on to teach your own children the same message, actively praising them for being honest and reprimanding them when they lied.

But is this message correct, or is it possible we should be teaching them more complex and fine-tuned diplomatic skills instead?

Sometimes, honesty is not the best policy, but diplomacy is. This means it's a good idea to not be 100% truthful when confronted by certain situations or when asked awkward questions. Sometimes we lie to protect someone who needs our help. Not always, of course, and 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 article to offer examples of situations when you might need to seriously weigh the risk of being too honest and consider if you're better off editing the truth, telling a small fib, or even telling a stonking major lie rather than going down the honesty-is-the-best-policy line of thinking.

Can You Be Too Honest?

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, allow me to explain what I mean. There have been many occasions where friends have asked me if I like their new outfit or their new hairstyle. Sometimes they have asked me if I think they are fat, ugly, or unreasonble. Now, I am not going to hurt their feelings by telling them yes, they do look awful with their new haircut or that they really are rather ugly and could do with losing a load of weight, possibly followed by plastic surgery. I have been woken up by telephone calls from friends, 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 you can lie for the right reasons. Even someone who prides themselves on their honesty can lie in certain circumstances. 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.

Examples of 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 pounds overweight rather than 10 pounds underweight rather than saying, "Well yes you are very fat, you already know that or you wouldn't be asking."
  • When you're 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 telling the truth.
  • 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 cut hair back on again. 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 giving out someone's phone number is likely to cause 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 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.
  • 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?

© 2012 Cindy Lawson