The Problem With Honesty

Movies like Jim Carrey’s Liar Liar and Ricky Gervais’s The Invention of Lying are funny because really being honest would create extremely awkward social situations.

But there are some things these movies get wrong. Telling the truth doesn’t mean saying everything that pops into your head, like when Jim Carrey tells a new employee that the guys in the office are nice to her because she has big boobs. There’s nothing dishonest about not saying something (unless it’s something someone needs to know). Same goes for TMI.

Brad Blanton wrote a book Radical Honesty. Though appealing on one level, it’s not going to start a movement. AJ Jacobs interviewed Blanton for Esquire, but he did a superficial dipshit job as Blanton predicted he would.

Jacobs missed Blanton’s central point: the person we lie to most is ourselves. Radical honesty starts with telling ourselves the truth about all the stuff that we try so hard to deny. The reality is that we are much more selfish and emotionally volatile than we want to admit, but it’s easier to project that onto other people.

But let’s face it: most people don’t really want honesty. We want reassurance, our beliefs to be reinforced, our prejudices justified, and our self-deceptions enabled. And lying prevents conflict when it’s little lies about matters of small consequence or when it’s done to make someone feel better (“your haircut looks great”).

The type of lying no one likes are big lies with major consequences, especially when it’s done to take advantage of someone.

So let’s be honest: lying isn’t always wrong. I think it’s okay to lie to save someone’s feelings as long as the consequences of the lie won’t create a bigger issue. If something is not the other person’s business then it’s better to gently set a boundary, but a small lie is a passive-aggressive alternative that’s no big deal.

Other times a positive truth can replace a negative truth in order to avoid a lie. A man I know told me that his wife recently went dress shopping. When asked if a certain dress looked good on her, he told her that the other dress looked even better. No doubt she knew what he was saying, but the way he said it makes a difference.

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Author: Dave DuBay

Dave is a social worker from Phoenix, Arizona. He blogs at thepaintedporch.net. He's also at twitter.com/Dave_DuBay.

2 thoughts on “The Problem With Honesty”

  1. So many great points. I remember arguing a few similar thoughts during an honesty lesson in Sunday School when I was young. Needless to say the teacher wasn’t too impressed with me. 😜

    Seriously though, I’ve always felt honesty was nuanced and I appreciate your thoughts about it.

    Like

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