Should You Always Tell the Truth?

Young Couple in an Office

As children, we were told to always tell the truth.  This was often supported with the fear that if we didn’t, the truth would eventually be revealed.

The operative lesson being, “Don’t lie!”

As completely stand-alone ideas, telling the truth is a right act, but lying is a wrong act.  Philosophically, once past these first statements, it’s more difficult than that.

Truth, humanely perceived, isn’t an absolute.

The Temptation of Falsehood

Being untruthful implies that you are telling a lie or creating a falsehood.  Sometimes a “little white lie” does not seem untruthful; rather, it is about not wanting to say something that will hurt or offend someone.

It feels easier to justify not telling the whole truth, or a small untruth, as civility.  But even the tiniest "little white lie” can come back to bite you.

One thing for sure:  A reputation as an honest person is desirable and being known as someone who doesn’t tell the truth is not.  People ask, “Can he be trusted to tell the truth?”  “Can her word be depended upon?”

Keep in mind, we choose our friends and do business with those who we believe are trustworthy.

Constructive Honesty

It’s good to be honest.  But being honest does not equate with being rude or mean. 
Sincere honesty and the “no facts left behind” approach do not reconcile. 

In conversations and in the public’s eye, when truthfulness is called for, constructive honesty serves us well.

  • It gives you the opportunity to share something about how the other person is coming off to you.  You are talking about yourself.  “I” rather than “you” statements help us be etiquette-ful in that they help others be comfortable, even as we are speaking our truths in a kind way—a way that isn’t perceived as hostile.
  • It may include a conclusion about the work at hand.  A professor might remark, “This essay doesn’t hit the mark. Constructive honesty is then complemented with constructive criticism: “Here is what’s missing….” 
  • In personal relationships, we often know how a spouse, family member, friend, or coworker will react to something.  Mindfully making allowances for personality can help us moderate tone of voice.  Calm is often comforting to others.
  • It always includes being respectful of others, even though your beliefs or perception of a situation is surely different than theirs.

However, constructive honesty does not mean:

  • Being brutally honest or blaming others for your anger.
  • Drowning out others’ reactions to your views and beliefs.
  • Giving unwanted remarks of how things should be during a well-defined situation such as a family dinner or holiday gathering.  
    If you're asked directly how something tastes or looks, say something true but sideways, such as, “It must make you feel good to have new furniture!” Or “Oh this roast beef has been prepared uniquely.” Or “The jeans do fit you, and they might look great with a dressy jacket.”

Honesty is always deserved.  But when it will be perceived as a cruel fact, tone it down, present it as a positive, or use it to suggest an improvement.

Honesty is Always Your Best Policy

Daily, in social and professional living, we face situations where we have to decide how honest we will be.  The boundaries of personal privacy may dictate how much information you reveal, but honesty should prevail.

If you choose to tell a lie – even a little one – know that consequences may await you.  You’ll need to remember what you told and who you told it to.  Lies have a way of coming back to us at the most unexpected times. 

We want to be believable and we want others to perceive us this way.  When we passionately feel something we want to be able to share it, but remembering that others also have the same inclinations, we should put our desire for civility first.

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