Woman, Haematoma, Fight, Black Eye, Pinch, Bruising

Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

Fandango has posed the question: “Do you believe that honesty is always the best policy? Is there is ever a time or circumstance when dishonesty (lying) is justifiable? Please elaborate.”

This is another ethical question debated by my students.  Where does honesty eclipse compassion, and vice versa?

In the first instance is the issue of degree and risk.  If a friend you are shopping with asks you, “How do I look in this?” you have to consider your response.  You can be “brutally honest,” and say “You look awful.”  This creates a situation in which the feelings of the person can be hurt.  You can be more exact in your wording and say “It looks awful,” but the nuance might be missed and harm still done.  You can lie and say, “It’s good,” but this creates a situation where for the moment the person feels validated, only to risk ridicule by less tactful commentators later.  Again hurt results.  Tact and honesty,  however can still go hand in hand with the statement, “The last outfit (hat, make up, etc) was better.”  In each case the degree of harm is emotional, and seldom “life-changing.”

On the other hand there is the scenario of: You are sitting at a bus stop and a young woman comes staggering towards you.  She has a black eye just starting to form, her blouse is torn, and she is carrying one broken shoe, and the other is missing.  As she nears you, she holds one finger to her lips, and makes a shhh sound as she climbs behind a nearby hedge.  A few moments later a man, his knuckles bruising, approaches you and asks if you had seen a woman of her description.  You can lie and say “No, I haven’t.” This may be a noble action.  You can be truthful and say, “Yes,” this however, opens up the conversation and the follow-up question, “Which way did she go?”  Here you can lie and say “I don’t know,” or even give a false direction.  This compromises your own previous honesty.  Or you can say, “She is behind the bush.”  Here you are merely stating facts without regard to future consequences – a “morally neutral” stance – as you do not know what the future hold, only the past.

On the other hand, you could treat the initial question as to whether you have seen her in an honest, but closed ended way.  “I saw her, but I don’t know where she is now (a true statement since she is out of your sight).”  Even this has risks based on you assumptions rather than your true knowledge.  Is this man the cause of her injuries?  You do not know for certain.  Yes, the evidence suggests that her black eye and his bruised fist have a link.  You may then conclude that you are protecting her by any obfuscation you offer.  Consider the alternatives, however.  What if this questioner is not her attacker, but a rescuer?  Might this be her brother, who has just given her abusive boyfriend a thrashing?  Is your lie (well-intentioned as it might be) delaying her rescue or even medical treatment?

I have stated in the past that I lean to an absolutist view of morality, and shun relativism.  So for me, honesty remains the best policy.  But I must acknowledge that it does not come without its own risks.


Fandango’s Provocative Question #38

7 thoughts on “Honesty

  1. I see also the difference in your two given scenarios is one is an opinion, the other is a fact. We might like to soften the effect of our opinion since it is opinion, not fact. But a fact requires either truth or lie.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like this post! I especially like the scenarios. But I have another scenario for you. Let’s you are working and your supervisor asks you to lie about your money at work. He tells you that if you don’t do what he asks he will fire you. But, you know if your boss finds out that you will definitely be fired. What do you do?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I may be a simple soul, or a least a simple mind, but I will risk the wrath of the supervisor. It leaves open an appeal to the bigger boss, but even more so it is what is right. A near relative of mine (nameless as I don’t have their consent to give details) was put in similar circumstance, Let’s just say its amazing what modern recording devices can achieve. I know its a bit trite, but in the end I would risk in favour of honesty.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for sharing your thought! Honesty can get you very far. Even though at first it might not seem like it. One wise man talked about honesty and he said to me: “Lying lips are detestable to God, but those acting faithfully bring pleasure to him.”​ What are your thoughts on what he said? Do you think God cares about honesty?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I take the view that God upholds the upright. Ephesians 4:25 admonishes up to speak honestly and avoid falsehood, and Proverbs 12:22 says that God deplores lying lips as you have noted. If nothing else false witness is considered bad enough to have a place in the though shall nots of the ten commandments.

        Liked by 1 person

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