Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What does honesty look like?

I’ve been thinking today about honesty and about what makes the difference between truth and lies. Is all lying morally wrong? What about lies of omission or intentional deception?

A study in the UK found that men lie an average of 6 times a day, and women 3. This study reports that the most common “lie” told by both sexes was: “Nothing’s wrong. I’m fine.”

While some may protest that lying is wrong and can only cause problems, I actually think most people lie to avoid problems – and often with just cause. Indeed, I think there are many situations in which the full truth is not warranted.

When I was in the military, we were taught to give information only on a ‘need to know’ basis. I tend to use the same principles in my daily life. This means that if I’m feeling particularly negative, annoyed, grouchy, or whatever and someone ask how I am, like the British, I’ll likely say I’m okay.

In fact, I tend to think being honest about one’s feelings can be dangerous and often regrettable. Back my single days when I would meet someone new, I may have thought this person was wonderful and I would marry him in a heartbeat and bear him many children ... but to tell him this on the first date would likely not have been wise. Instead, I usually waited to see how he felt about me, and whether or not my feelings about him changed.

Similarly, the first time we hit a rough patch and in my despair I imagined we were ruined and I thought he was the most inconsiderate louse on the planet, I would not rush to express this. Again, I would try to assess how he felt and start a careful conversation, which would likely make no mention of my thoughts which likened him to lice.

So I know myself to be someone who is guarded and careful. I do not easily talk about how I feel. I am reluctant to show the cards in my hand. But am I dishonest?

I almost never tell an outright lie. But neither can I say that I always tell the truth.

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