Quiz time! How honest are you?
THE HONESTY QUIZ STARTS HERE
For each statement below, answer:
1. If unhappy with a haircut, I always ask the stylist to fix it
2. I’ve never even given a fake name to a barista!
3. I dress to suit my own taste, and am no slave to fashion
4. I don’t use social media to make out my life is better than it actually is
5. I never cheated on an exam when I was younger
6. My CV accurately represents my skills and abilities
7. I’ve never lied about my age
8. When I say I am ‘running five minutes late’ that is an accurate portrayal of how late I am
9. I only say ‘I’m fine’ if I really mean it
10. When asked for my opinion, I always say exactly what I think
11. If undercharged in a shop, I would correct the mistake
12. I think fact is more interesting than fiction
13. I’d gladly share my phone password with my partner
14. I find it easy to trust others
15. I prefer genuine criticism to inauthentic encouragement
16. I always own up to my mistakes no matter how uncomfortable I feel
17. I would never exaggerate my salary or means to impress someone
18. I am not comfortable with lying, even if it’s only a joke
19. When retelling a story, I always ensure it’s an accurate portrayal of what actually happened
20. I feel obliged to tell the truth even if doing so could cause harm
you mostly answered agree
You’re a straight talker, who is not afraid to share your opinion and who values knowing where you stand with others. The 18th century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, would be proud! A man of principle, he said that by lying, one throws away their own dignity and that ‘truthfulness in statements which cannot be avoided is the formal duty of an individual to everyone, however great the disadvantage accruing to himself or to another may be.’ You are likely to agree with Kant, that it is best to pursue honesty come what may.
Your adherence to the truth is incredibly valuable. To be sure, dishonesty can shake the foundations of trust and make it difficult to collaborate with others. And when we are dishonest with ourselves, we may fail to acknowledge and address a personal weakness that is potentially holding us back. However, while truthfulness is valuable, wholesale adherence to honesty can open the door to rigidity, making it difficult to be flexible when staying silent, or telling only part of the truth, might be called for.
Consider: Honesty is not the only important value. At times there are other considerations which can be equally compelling. For example, exercising compassion towards another may call for withholding potentially hurtful information, if only for a time. As you value truthfulness, you might want to ponder which other values you want to use to temper your use of honesty.
you mostly answered disagree
While not aiming to deceive, honesty is not your highest aim. It is likely instead to be one of many tools you use to construct the life you think best. You are sensitive to cultural norms, and recognise that sometimes social politeness demands you present yourself in ways that are perhaps a bit less than genuine.
You’re likely to consider the particular context you are in before determining whether or not honesty – and how much honesty – should be employed. Jeremy Bentham, the 18th century English philosopher who championed utilitarianism would probably agree with you. He taught that, taken by itself, falsehood cannot be bad. Instead, according to Bentham, circumstances make all the difference. If, for example, diverging from the truth would be the loving thing to do, it would be shallow to adhere to honesty for its own sake.
Consider: By not holding the principle of honesty too highly, you remain able to respond well to others across a variety of situations. This sensitivity to context is excellent. However, it is possible for one’s grasp on the truth to become too loose. When this happens, you may even find you present yourself as a very different person from one situation to the next. While not negative on its own, this may lead to one’s integrity suffering, often resulting in a diminished sense of self.
If you have not done so already, you may want to take a moment to ponder what your limit for diverging from the truth is. Ask yourself this: ‘What kinds of things will I always be honest about and which ones am I more happy to reinterpret?’
MOST COMMON LIES
‘Nothing’s wrong – I’m fine’
‘Oh, this isn’t new’
‘I’m not angry with you’
‘It wasn’t that expensive’
‘It was on sale’
‘I’m on my way’
‘I don’t know where it is,
‘I haven’t moved it’
‘I didn’t have that much to drink’
‘I’ve got a headache’
‘No, I didn’t throw it away’
‘Sorry, I missed your call’
‘I didn’t get your text’
‘This will be my last drink’
‘No, your bum doesn’t look big in that’
‘Of course I love you’
‘My battery died’
‘I’ve been in meetings all day’
‘I didn’t have that much to drink’
‘I’m on my way’
‘It’s not you, it’s me’
‘I’m stuck in traffic’
ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS TO DETERMINE WHETHER HONESTY PREVAILS
What impact might my honesty have?
What’s my motivation for being (dis)honest in this moment?
Might a higher value trump the need to be honest right now?
How honest am I being with myself?
Would I be happy if someone was this (dis)honest with me?
THE TRUTH ABOUT HONESTY (the theory bit)
The saying goes that ‘honesty is the best policy’, but is it really always best to be honest? The answer depends on your meaning of ‘honesty’. At first glance, honesty can seem to mean something like ‘telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. But if being honest means full transparency, such that we live our lives as open books, sharing every thought with those around us, then honesty, it seems, is a socially dangerous policy.
As the writer, Catherine Blyth, has observed, ‘Our species’ success comes of sociability, serving four social goals – collaborative, convivial, competitive and conflictive – none of which correlates with truth unmodified’. If honesty means full transparency, then it brings risk of alienation and social death, providing ammunition for online bullies to fire at us.
Some of the wisest philosophers, psychologists and religious thinkers have written about speaking and living out what we believe to be true, but doing so in a way that is contextually appropriate. What are the implications of being dishonest in our everyday moments? The American 19th century writer, Emily Dickinson, said we should ‘tell all the truth, but tell it slant’. But just how much of a slant should we give to the truth where our profile photos, CVs or salaries are concerned? Again, context matters.
A good rule of thumb is that as intimacy and significancy increases, so should honesty. So, with close friends and family, or with jobs where the entirety of an employer’s trust is on the line, very little ‘slant’ will be appropriate. But with new acquaintances, or where not much hangs in the balance, often sharing the depths of what we really think about a matter will count as ‘too much information’. Still, this relationship between intimacy, significance and honesty is only a general rule. Motives and potential impact also matter.
It is easy to think the courageous, and perhaps loving, thing to do is to speak the truth to others — that by being honest we are truly sharing ourselves with others. While this can be true, it is also possible to use honesty to rebuff others and avoid true vulnerability. This can be what is really going on when justification for a cutting word is excused by the phrase ‘well, I was just being honest’. Sometimes more important than speaking the truth is considering what our motives are for speaking in the first place.
Impact is Important
It is necessary to consider what possible impact our honesty might have. The same piece of information may support one friend but wound another.
Because the value of honesty can be so context dependent, it may be helpful to think of it as less of a moral obligation and more of an art to be practiced for the sake of personal and relational wellbeing. Across various moments, the highest value of a relationship might change from truthfulness to compassion and so shrink the need for honesty. So too, sometimes we may need to be more honest with ourselves (perhaps about our strengths or weaknesses), while at other times looking so closely at our own natures might hinder confidence.
As a result, honesty may not always prove to be the best policy, but by considering context, motivation and impact, it is possible to strike a well-informed balance between truth and falsity.
Balance asked Londoners how they viewed honesty and whether they were always honest themselves…