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.