Where’s My Line?

We have all heard the phrase that “honesty is the best policy”. And we can easily equate honesty with the truth. In fact, it is nearly impossible to find a definition of honesty that does not include the word truth or being truthful as a reference. And the following will use these words as interchangeable ideas, for you cannot be one without the other. Honesty is a cornerstone in what our society considers appropriate behavior. Being dishonesty or lying, in general, is considered a horrible character flaw. And it can easily undermine any other good qualities you may exude. It is truly rare to find a person that is okay with being lied to. Conversely, most people avoid associating with persons they consider to be dishonest or liars. It doesn’t mean that we don’t all have to deal with dishonesty from someone in our lives at some point or even many points, as many circumstances and situations require us to interact with people we knowingly don’t trust. But we certainly measure and weigh everything they tell us. And for the worst offenders, we almost automatically assume everything they tell us is a lie. On the other hand, we are apt to give most people the benefit of the doubt that they are truthful, unless they give us reason to think otherwise. With no historical record of honesty from of someone we just met, we assume they have this delicate and elusive character trait.

The important tenet of being honest and truthful is so vital to good character, that for most of us it was one of the first concepts we were taught as a child. I think it comes shortly after learning what “yes” and “no” mean. Our parents or caregivers chided us to always tell the truth. And especially in those situations where we may be compelled to lie in an effort to avoid embarrassment or punishment for something we had done. At the youngest of ages, with a limited understanding of what personal character means or any real knowledge base for the complexities of human interaction, we were encouraged to do the one thing that is the most difficult in life. Just tell the truth and let the proverbial chips fall where they may. This concept is continually reinforced throughout our lives in the hopes of becoming ingrained in our characters. We even suffer the charge of perjury on those who would be dishonest in presenting facts in a legal issue before the courts. Everyone wants everyone else to be honest and tell the truth in all they do and say. And with honesty comes great respect. Even when what is said seems hurtful to our sensitivities or projects views widely diverse from our own, we respect the fact that the person was honest with us. Some of my greatest personal growth has come from friends telling me the truth, no matter how much it may hurt my feelings or invoke some negative response. And I love them for it.

So with all the expectations we have for others and this constant push to be honest from our earliest days, why do we all find ways to not be truthful? Certainly any hypocrisy that our parents displayed regarding being truthful drastically undersold us as children on its importance. When the pesky neighbor called and you answered, being instructed to tell them the person they asked for was not there (while they stood only feet away from you)started to imply that telling the truth in all things was not vital. You learned that there were situations in which the examples of character in your life openly chose to lie. You suddenly became aware of the mass of gray that sat between the small points of light that are truth and lie. If you were aware enough to question this behavior, or other similar situations of which they are tons, you probably received some feeble explanation that this was just a small white lie or fib and this particular type of dishonesty was not only acceptable, but somewhat expected. You may have adopted the notion that it was better to tell a small lie than to hurt someone’s feelings by telling the truth. So we learn that out there somewhere is a line between lies that are okay and lies that are not.

And individually we know exactly where our line is. We know what we are willing to lie about and what we won’t lie about. We often find it acceptable to lie about things we perceive as “small” things, those little white lies and fibs. But expect honesty from ourselves on things of importance. But if we choose to lie about small things because we fear the small repercussions that may come with the truth, how can we expect complete honesty from ourselves when the stakes are even higher? And even if we have the moral fortitude to draw our line between okay to lie and not okay to lie at some relevant level that would be seen as reasonable by others, we are the only ones who can clearly see our own line. Do you know where that line is for others? You may think or hope that it lies somewhere near your own, but it is at best a guess or hope, for only they know where their own line is. And if we have people in our lives who will not tell us the truth in small matters, under the guise of not wanting to create drama or hurt our feelings, can we truly expect the honesty from them when the truth may have a more devastating impact on our own psyche or emotional state?

I would proffer that if we are willing to be dishonest in small things for fear of what consequences may come with the truth; then more important matters, which have vastly larger consequences coupled with our skewed reasoning, would lead to being dishonest in those circumstances for the same reasons. Rarely is anything in our lives simply “black” or “white”. We exist in a world full of shades of gray in just about every aspect of living. But in honesty, there is no gray. There is no “good” reason for being dishonest. There is no sensible rational in protecting someone or their feelings by lying to them. Ask anyone you know if they would want you to lie to them to protect their feelings. I would be surprised if you find anyone, who fits into the definition of friend or family, who would choose for you to be dishonest with them.

So if we must draw a line of how important something has to be before we will have to be honest about it, draw it in pen at the smallest of things. Choose all matters to be important enough to be truthful about. Or you will need to muster your full prowess of understanding when someone lies to you. What we put into the world, through our thoughts, words, and actions, returns to us. So lie if you think it is the “right” thing to do, but you can then hold no disdain when you are lied to.

© 2012  Commonsensibly Speaking ~ Brad Osborne

8 Responses to “Where’s My Line?”
  1. Very insightful post, the type I’ve come to expect from your blog! I like the closing which reminds, “if you lie, and think it’s the “right” thing to do” don’t be upset when someone lies to you. How true.

  2. melanie klein says:

    Very true. Thought provoking. From your sampling of people in the world, what percentage do you think are 100 percent honest?

    • Brad Osborne says:

      What a great question! I hope my other readers will also weigh in with their answers. Sadly, my answer would be 0%. I have never met anyone, including myself, that can be completely honest in all things. We readily, bend or hide the truth to avoid the repercussions our honesty may bring. We are social animals and many people like to avoid confilct, so often circumstances present situations in which we find it morally acceptable to lie. Some will put these “small” lies under the generalization of social graces. But the reality is that we are untruthful out of fear. And I believe any action taken out of fear cannot be the right thing. Thanks again for asking such a provactive question!

  3. As you know, this topic is near and dear to my heart. Having felt that I was lied to much of my young life in the name of “protection” or “not disappointing”, has most certainly had an affect on my cynical adult life (among other major events which helped fuel the fire).

    While I agree that honesty is always the best policy, allow me to take a brief moment and play Devils advocate. Isn’t it true that there must be a line drawn somewhere where one keeps their opinions to themselves in the name of “societal niceties” (for lack of a better term)? There are those that may offer their opinion of the truth when no one in particular asked for it. Is it okay, in the name of being honest in all things, to say to a friend that one hasn’t seen in awhile, “Wow. You gained a lot of weight since I last saw you!”? Or “that new dress looks terrible on you” without being asked of your opinion first? Of course, I would expect that from my family as not only do they typically come to the party without their filters; but, they can pull out the “I said it out of love for you” card. But at what point is the line drawn?

    Wars have been started in the name of truth. “My religion is right and yours is wrong” has been fueling war since the beginning of religion. Is it right to interject my perceived truth when no one asked me? While speaking to a friend who has different religious or political beliefs than I, is it right to say, “You must be an idiot to believe that!” because their opinion differs from mine? I don’t think so.

    Lastly, we all know those individuals that, while they say they want the truth, can’t handle it (my beautiful daughter comes to mind). The inner turmoil evoked by the simple question, “Do I look okay in this outfit?” is astounding. I literally have to (very quickly) weigh the wrath I am about to receive for my honestly and determine whether it’s worth it or not at any given moment.

    So, yes. Honestly is certainly the most important of virtues and we all strive for it and seek it in our friends, partners, political leaders, etc. But, I would also offer that when speaking honestly when no one has asked for our opinions, we know our audience first!

    Great post, Brad!

    • Brad Osborne says:

      As always Antics, an insightful and thought-provoking view. When referring to religion, we may have to “define” truth (real busy trying to define “love” right now so that may have to wait). Religious “truth” is based on a number of things, none of which can be proven or disproven. That is why all religions get to be right, and by default all other competing concepts are then wrong. And yes, these are go to war type beliefs. At the opposite end of the scale, lies provable scientific and mathmetical “truths”. The accepted knwoledge that can be proven correct time and time again, i.e.: 1 + 1 = 2. In the gray area in between, it could be argued that everything else is truth based on our own perception, and as any individual perception of things can be easily flawed, proving your own truth would have to involve moving the non-believer to accept your perception or view as correct. Or, as it is often heard, they will just simply disagree and log what is offered as your opinion (neither lie nor truth). Lawyers make their living doing this. When asked those opinions that may involve “societal nicities”, we could simply inquire whether the person asking wants the truth or not. If they say yes, then any requirments to protect feelings or relationships is forfeited. If they say “no”, then when can happily tell them what they want to hear without feeling any remorse for being less than truthful. I wonder how often we would be told “No, go ahead and lie to me”?

      And I do agree that offering unrequested opinions on things is not about telling the truth. It is sometimes about protecting, sometimes about control, sometimes about anger, sometimes about jealousy, and even sometimes about sharing experience. That is not to say that the opinion offered is not being truthful, but it is saying it is not needed or welcomed. And as stated above, since it is an opinion, it is based on individual perception which can be skewed, flawed, or otherwise influenced by personal issues. The relevant truth of an opinion is open for debate.

      Thanks for such a great response. I appreciate your adding it to this article. Your thoughts are always welcomed, considerd, and a part of making the reading worthwhile. I don’t mind when people agree with what I have written, but I would prefer they disagree or add a facet which may have been neglected. It makes this all worthwhile for my own growth. Thanks again!

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