DalyDose of…Honesty Policy
“Honesty is the best policy. If I lose mine honor, I lose myself.” – William Shakespeare
Who doesn’t understand the most basic virtue of honesty? It has been taught to seemingly every child growing up in every culture throughout time? In a display of my optimism (or naiveté), I tend to assume that most people WANT to tell the truth. The problem is that life doesn’t seem to encourage or incentivize honesty that much. In JD’s economics influenced world-view, people and their behaviors are heavily influenced by incentive.
Sure, there are family dramas where a child caught with hands in the cookie jar and admits wrongdoing under parental interrogation. There is joy in the house because the child told the truth and gets leniency followed with a big group hug. I’m not sure that is the mainstream experience for the parent-child relationship. I think the lessons of “don’t eat cookies without asking” and “don’t play in the house” stand in higher favor than “tell the truth”. In fact, the reality seems to be that the honesty/truth lesson is really taught as an investigative tool for the parent to get to the truth, in an attempt to hand out punishment for other offenses.
When I think about truth in the context of life, I am taken to the question of the question. For example, we all know to tell a reasonable lie to the police officer that pulls us over and asks if we knew how fast we were driving. I don’t think anyone wants to tell the IRS about an “honest mistake” on their taxes. The truth in these situations is almost always followed by punishment and negative reinforcement against honesty.
That being said, I do attempt to be truthful in my everyday life. Like most rules of the JDExperience, I attempt to keep it up even if it gets me trouble. You can verify that with anyone that I’ve ever dated. Speaking of truth in relationships, I was inspired to write this blog by the following GEICO commercial:
This brings us back to the question of “the question”. I submit to you that Mrs. Lincoln’s question, like most questions, are designed to challenge, not encourage the honesty virtue of the questioned. When Mary asks ‘ole Abe about the dress, is it an honest question? I mean does she have a desire for unconditional truth? I imagine that as she was asking, there was only one acceptable answer. She is, in essence, issuing an order for Abe to tell her that she looks amazing in that dress. Come to think of it, this is probably what she would have done. I mean, she knows to whom she’s married. He didn’t get that Honest Abe moniker for nothing.
If the fictional parody of President Lincoln gets grief for telling the truth, what can the rest of us do? There are semantic games that could be played. I was once taught to answer a question with as little information as possible when put into dire situations. In this case, Abe could have just said “No”. According to Al Bundy Theory this would have been a true statement based on a line from Married With Children that went something like “don’t ask us if a dress makes you look fat. We hate that. Besides, it’s not the dress that makes you look fat, it’s the fat that makes you look fat”. Now, I am not advocating THAT level of truth. It might get you hurt, actually. But if you do a little truth formula to justify, you can keep your integrity and avoid punishment.
Mary: Does this dress make me look fat?
(Abe processes that she does look fat, but it is no fault of the dress and she asked specifically about the dress. He then truthfully asks the question laid before him)
I hope you were paying attention. Apply semantics and carefully crafted crumbles of truth and you’ll be just fine. The able application of alliteration never hurts either.
I could wildly entertain you with more examples, but I have a point to make. We were talking about honesty in inquiry, right? I say we should all ask honest questions whenever possible. If you are in a play and ask me what I thought, and I comment on the comfort of the seats or tell you that you looked great, know that I didn’t like the play very much. Ask me probing questions in specific areas, expect specific truths.
My favorite example of a dishonest question is the oft used, rarely sincere “how are you?”. I always give a real answer. I keep it upbeat, but never say “fine”. I go with hyper positive truth’s like “rediculously outstanding” or “WAY above average” followed by “and you?”. I look them directly in the eyes to show that I actually care about and am waiting for their answer. *Remember the truth formula. Even if you are having a bad day, you could be locked in a North Korean jail or starving in a 3rd world desert so in comparison to many of your fellow human beings you are truthfully having an outstanding day.
So yes, I would say honesty is generally a great thing. A JD-ism states that “lies do harm beyond the original untruth, the real harm is done to the credibility of future communication”. While I am an advocate and practitioner of truth, I realize and preach that truth needs to exist on both sides of communication. We should all expect honest questions and truthful answers.
OK, wow…that was about the most serious blog I’ve written in…like…ever. So, to reward you for making it this far, I’ll leave you with an honest R&B YouTube classic.