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Monday, November 28, 2005

Deep Thought time again, on the nature of honesty. How important is it for a person to develop an internal commitment to the truth? How important is it to be truthful even if no one else will ever know if you lied?

Suppose a friend gets a haircut that you think is the ugliest thing you've ever seen, and she asks your opinion?

Suppose the truth is X, but you couch it in such a way that any reasonable person would assume Y; and you know your listener understood Y, and you didn't correct him? Is that lying?

What would you be more likely to lie about: something you did that was wrong, or something you did that makes you look stupid and hurts your pride?

Could you ever trust someone you discover to be a facile liar? Suppose you only catch him lying about things that don't matter?

Is there a connection between being careful to be truthful to others, and being truthful with onesself? We're all familiar with Polonius's advice: "This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." But does it work the other way, too: if a person is scrupulously truthful to other people about how much she drinks, or smokes, or gambles, or wastes time surfing the net (ahem) is she less likely to drift too far down the garden path?

2 comments:

Homer said...

The litmus test, I think, is whether the lie is to make the liar feel better or a third party feel better. With the example you used, I wouldn't lie to doctors or friends about how much alcohol I consume, but I do to my Mum, because having had an alcoholic father she is teetotal and very sensitive to how much my sister and I drink.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Yes, motives are vital in determining when to be brutally honest.

I actually would tell the truth about the haircut, especially to a friend. I would say something like, "Are you asking my honest opinion? I really don't care for it. I liked it better when you (had a bob, whatever). But it's your hair - fix it any way you want." Because if I had an ugly hairstyle I would want to know. What are friends for?

And it beats heck out of lying to the friend and then laughing at her behind her back.