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Is honesty always the best policy?
1/29/2014 9:59:02 AM

By John Pederson
Splash Guest Column

When I was young, I remember one of my favorite TV game shows was, "To Tell the Truth." Three contestants would claim to be a certain person (e.g., John Doe), while only one had signed an affidavit to honestly answer questions posed by the celebrity panel. After the questioning, the panel and TV audience would watch as the real John Doe would stand, and it was obvious how difficult it was to choose which contestant was telling the truth. The point is, with a little knowledge and practice, a liar can be quite convincing. 

Our core values determine what we say and do, or what we don't say and do. If asked to prioritize our values, most of us would put honesty right at the top. And most us would admit (if we were to be truthful) that there have been times where we may have not told the truth, because we determined that the situation warranted withholding it. In a business sense, it could be that certain information simply could not be disclosed, such as a pending personnel action or other information of a confidential nature. In a more personal vein,  we might have justified telling a "white lie" in the interest of tact or politeness like foregoing a negative (but honest) opinion about someone else, such as their new outfit of clothes or hairstyle. Guys, you know what I'm saying here.

Where we walk a potentially dangerous line is when we convince ourselves to tell a white lie to be tactful or polite in the interest of someone else, when in fact, we are really trying to avoid our own accountability. It seems that we have an inherent ability to rationalize our behavior, such that we convince ourselves that "stretching the truth" in our particular instance is justified. However, once we have sidestepped the truth, the situation often remains, such that we feel the need to continue the deception. 

For those people who command a spot in the public eye, it can become quite problematic. We see it in the news; not only is someone caught in a lie, but once they have tried to cover up the initial discretion, they subsequently found the need to try to "cover up the cover up." When put on the spot and asked about a certain action on a certain day, they respond with, "I don't recall." That statement may or may not be true; however, with technology being what it is today, there will be an archive of emails, phone calls, social media, etc., that will remind them what they said or did. Presidents and companies have fallen into disgrace because of a basic disregard for the truth.

Mark Twain said, "Always tell the truth. That way, you don't have to remember what you said."

The daily decisions we make, in turn, make up the kind of people we are. Sure, there are bad people that do bad things, but most of us are good people, who occasionally do dumb things, and sometimes find ourselves in sticky situations. Being truthful can relieve some of the stickiness. People are generally willing to forgive "honest" mistakes.

I believe that being honest is the foundation of ethical behavior, for without honesty, there can't be integrity. Honesty is also an integral part of trust, which in turn is the basis of all relationships. A person who is perceived to be honest commands respect and enjoys a good reputation. Being genuine and being honest go hand in hand. Being honest at all times often requires courage and a willingness to do the right thing, no matter what. As religious leader, lawyer and politician James E. Faust said, "Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living and truth loving." 

I encourage you to sign a mental affidavit with yourself that you will be truthful at all times (be careful with those white lies). Then, as you go about your personal and business activities, people can say, "There goes the real [insert your name here]."

Honesty is the best policy. Always.

John Pederson is owner and president of Ethics Talks LLC (www.EthicsTalks.com). His presentations include being a continuing education provider for the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner and the Idaho Department of Insurance. He can be reached at john@EthicsTalks.com. He wrote this column as part of a series highlighting the PACE (Partners Advancing Character Education) trait of the month. The trait for February is honesty.

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