Christian's Chronicles

July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.

On Best Policies

Honesty is not the best policy.

It never has been. This is just one of our many myths that we claim to observe, but in all honesty (pun intended) we do not live by. You almost never want to be truly honest. At least, not if you know how to behave like a civilized human being.

When we meet someone, we may say: “Hello, how are you?” Does anyone really care? Do you really want to listen to the mundane details that would make for an honest answer to that question?


It is just part of our pleasantries, our rituals. It is not a question that invites an honest answer.

But we tell our little white lies in other ways, too. “Does this dress make me look fat?” Never mind that the question only asks whether the dress creates the ILLUSION of being heavier than the reality of true body composition. It is not a question about the dress. It is an invitation for compliments. There is a socially appropriate answer. But it is not an honest answer.

Sometimes, you meet someone whom you need, for whatever reason, to be an ally of some sort. Maybe it is a business deal, or perhaps that person is a third party with some influence in a romantic relationship. The complexities of social interaction make for plenty of situations where someone who is a stakeholder, though perhaps not the party of primary concern, needs to be kept happy, or at least tolerated in order for things to work out according to our plans.

Sometimes, this person annoys you. Other times, you know that this person does not like you. You may not know why, but it is obvious. The subtle veiled insults that no one else picks up on. The almost imperceptible but effective positioning of bodies, and use of personal space. The times when attention is delicately shifted in a manner that others may not perceive as disrespectful, but you know damned well that the intent is to be ever so slightly, but oh so intentionally rude. Passive aggressiveness at its finest. Almost imperceptible, and therefore all the more effective.

What to do?

“Honesty is the best policy” our mothers emphasized, in a well-intentioned but thoroughly wrong, almost idiotic lie. You never EVER want to be completely honest. Complete honesty would tear up our social fabric, and quite possibly spell the downfall of civilization as we know it.

We must account for a myriad of relationships, power structures, positions, ripple effects in our social networks, reciprocity, in addition to the feelings and perceptions of those we are dealing with directly. We pay lip-service to ideals such as honesty, but in reality we not only make use of, but actively invite dishonesty. We live for fictions, even knowing full well that they are just that, not only in entertainment but in advertising, purchasing things to embellish our sense of self. We seek to escape reality and weave intricate and tangled webs of lies, in our everyday, ordinary, honest lives, without ever realizing that we are being dishonest.

We live our lives. We live our lies.

Some may be too naive to consciously realize this. Some may know it, but choose to turn away from the truth. Nonetheless, we comfort ourselves and each other with lies, every day, continuously.

What lies have you told yourself today? How have you been dishonest with others? Think about it; I am sure after an honest (yes, honest) look inside, you will find that you do this constantly. Perhaps it is an inescapable part of being human. Sooner or later, you will inevitably come to the realization that most, if not all, of your existence is rooted in lies.

Now ask yourself: is this wrong?

The answer may inevitably come to: No. Not only is it not wrong, it may be as inevitable as the necessity of the fictions and lies we tell ourselves and each other on a daily basis. The tougher question is – where do we draw the line between the acceptable, innocuous lies that make social existence possible and the lies that transgress boundaries in ways that are intolerable. Aye, there’s the rub.

Hamlet declared that “To be or not to be” was THE question. There may be some disagreement about this, and just because Shakespeare wrote it, does not necessarily make it a correct or profound observation. It may even be silly. But once you ask that question, how honest can you be in your answer?

No, honesty is not the best policy. We need lies. We need those lies that help us get along, and hopefully live long and prosper, as the Vulcan creed states. Some deception is benevolent, helpful, necessary.

“Honesty is the best policy” – that is just a well-meaning lie our mothers told us. One of many lies, perhaps necessary when simple black and white rules governed the world. Adult life is a bit more complex.

Here’s to hoping that we figure out which lies are the best to speak, and to believe.


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This entry was posted on November 17, 2013 by in 4 - Philosophy, The Chronicles and tagged , , , , , .