OK, back on track, before I go further, I think I need to address the invisible elephant in the room. My first principle of the four base ones I came up with here was: The truth is sacred. That must mean that your should always tell the truth, and never lie, right? Wrong.
Of course, a lie can be justified in terms of doing good for others. The example I used before was a Nazi soldier asking you if you are hiding Anne Frank, and you are. Of course you would lie to him (if you thought he would believe it.) But that’s OK because you’re lying to a bad person who wants to do bad things.
But let me paint another picture. Suppose you’re a working single mother. You normally send your kids to school and go to your job – but this time not only is the young one sick and in need of care, but your normal go-to emergency babysitter you call for situations like these can’t be reached. Worse yet, your boss just gave a big speech yesterday about how no one was going to get “special treatment” for “family reasons” when it comes to attendance – you actually know that your boss wouldn’t hesitate to fire you if you call in without what he would call an excusable absence. So you do what every other person does in this circumstance, you lie and call in sick.
Or another example, let’s say that you don’t believe at all in astrology, but during the job interview your interviewer asks you what your sign is, and generally begins to try to engage you in conversations about how you, an Aries, would be perfect for this position. You really need this job though, so you lie and agree with him.
Quite a few people would be shocked and outraged by at least a few of these choices. “You should never lie,” they say. “Honesty is the best policy. Lying by omission is still lying, and even more so if you speak falsehood.” You can probably guess that I don’t feel that way – but if one of my most important principles is truth, isn’t that a contradiction?
No – and this is why. You should always be honest with yourself. That is my principle. Never lie to yourself, never seek to delude yourself, never hide from uncomfortable truths within your mind.
But you are never required to put yourself at disadvantage or risk of harm in order to tell the truth to others. There are some very good reasons for being truthful most of the time, which I will enumerate in a bit, but first, let’s pop the balloon right now why everyone preaches honesty – but then goes ahead and lies when it suits them anyways.
It really boils down to one simple fact: information is power. If you can convince someone to tell you the truth, even when it is not in their best interest to do so, then you have the option of exerting power and influence over them. Take the sick child example above: if you tell your unsympathetic boss that you’re sick and must stay home, there’s not much he can probably do about that, so long as he doesn’t catch you in the lie, like at the movies later. However, if you mistakenly feel you have to be honest all the time, and you tell him that you know it’s not allowed, but that you have to stay home with your kid today – you have just handed him the power to decide what happens next. Sure, you may get a warm fuzzy patting yourself on the back for being honest, but when he fires you and you can’t get another job and you are frantic to find a way to keep feeding your kid, you may not value that warm fuzzy quite so much.
In the next post (since this one is so long) I will tell you why, even with all the above being true, you should still probably only lie very sparingly. There are some very good reasons to almost never lie. But “almost never” is not the same thing as “never”.
When push comes to shove, and the time comes where being honest would put you at disadvantage or risk, and you think you can get away with a lie of some kind, if you want to make the rational choice, consider telling the lie.
Except to me of course, tell me the honest truth always. You can trust me to never have a different opinion from you about what to do with the sensitive information you just shared with me – can’t you?