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BEING BASICALLY HONEST 277.5

After a workshop, a fellow came up to me and said, “You made me feel

uncomfortable because I’m not always honest, but I know I’m

‘basically’ honest. Isn’t that enough?”

His comment reminded me of a cartoon where one man says to another:

“I admire honesty, but his insistence on being scrupulously honest is

really annoying.”

I have a very high regard for honesty but there are other important

ethical principles that sometimes justify lies — lying to terrorists

to protect innocent people, or to a drug dealer to gather evidence. I

think it’s also okay to tell your grandmother you really like the

sweater she knitted or let young children believe in the tooth fairy.

But where there is no offsetting ethical principle like caring or

respect, being scrupulously honest is both possible and desirable.

Being basically honest is not enough. It’s like saying I really want

to be honest but not if it costs too much, not if it prevents me from

getting what I want.

The critical reality is that unless people agree that a lie is

justified, it undermines credibility. Once someone lies to us even on

a small thing we always think, “what else have you lied to me about?”

After all, how many times do you get to lie before you are a liar? How

many times does someone get to lie to you before distrust sets in?

The truth is that the most effective liars tell the truth most of the

time. But they create an illusion of honesty precisely so they will

be believed when they decide to lie. Such people may be basically

honest, but they’re not trustworthy.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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