Is Honesty Always the Best Policy?


I once had a client who had a hard time with her coworkers (and as it turned out, also with her partner) because she simply had to say exactly what she thought. This ‘brutal honesty’ kick resulted in rocky communication, and ultimately a lower quality of life for her at work.

 

Honesty with self and others is a critical virtue under almost every major philosophical framework. The truth – seeing it, discerning it and telling it – is important.

 

But honesty, while incontestable in principle, is more tenuous in practice.

 

The problem is that our desire to be honest with our words does not exist in a vacuum. There is a world that receives it. There are people who must hear, honor, accept, reject, be helped by or hurt by these words we unleash in the name of honesty.

 

I am not saying that you can’t be honest. I am saying you can’t be honest at someone else’s expense. There is precious little point in stating truths for the sake of truth if, ultimately, it doesn’t help a person or situation.

 

My client and I made this handy little flow chart together to help her think it through in 10 seconds before she opened her mouth. I have since used it regularly and it has prevented me from jumping headlong into futile battles and/or causing other people unnecessary pain.