Is Honesty the Best Policy?
In whatever position you find yourself determine first your objective.
Marshall Ferdinand Foch
We hear the phrase that honesty is the best policy over and over again throughout our lives. But it is completely true? Is honesty always the best policy? Do we destroy our honor, character, and integrity by telling a lie? Does the true warrior, or the man or woman of character, go against his conscience every time he lies? Is being an honest person a black and white issue, or is there much more to it than always telling the truth, no matter what?
From an early age, most of us have been taught that it is not right to lie, that we should tell the truth. Whenever we were caught in a lie and things fell apart for us, we were told, always remember, honesty is the best policy, as if that was going to make us feel better about the mess that we made for ourselves. We were taught this reverently, and by the same people and culture that taught us about Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny.
Once we got older, we realized that the very same people, who drilled honesty into our conscience mind, lied to us on a frequent basis. Sure, most of these were “little, white lies,” but they obviously weren’t following the, “honesty is the best policy” tenet. There were lies to make us feel better, lies to surprise us, lies about life circumstances, this list could go on and on.
If you think back, you can probably remember many lies which you were told. These were not meant in any sort of malicious way, but were just part of life for most people. But still, we were taught that honesty is the best policy. Either honesty is the best policy or it is not. The question is whether or not honesty is in fact, the best policy. And, the answer is, “it depends.”
I can feel my readers cringe even as I write this. I bet many of you are thinking, “How can Bohdi say that when he writes books on honor, character, integrity, and honesty?” To answer your question, I can say that because it is the truth, and we are trying to be honest here, right?
Honesty is not always the best policy; it depends on your objective. There are times when honesty is not only not the best policy, but when it is also just plain stupid and selfish. Yikes! I can feel another universal shutter of disgust, right through my keyboard! But stay with me for a few minutes.
While I have heard many preachers preach over and over that honesty is always the best policy and there is never any reason for lying, this is really nothing more than a generalization. Even the people who preach this message don’t truly believe what they are saying. Would these very same people not lie to a murderer in order to save their wife or kids? If they wouldn’t, I wouldn’t recommend listening to anything that they say anyway.
To generalize is to be an idiot.
Let’s look at an example that will clarify my point. Pretend you were a German living in Nazi Germany during World War II, and that you were hiding a young Jewish girl from the Nazi’s. If a group of Nazi soldiers came to your door and asked you if you had seen or knew of the whereabouts of a young Jewish girl, would it be the best policy to be honest with them? Not if your objective is to save the life of this young girl, it wouldn’t be.
You see, honesty is not always the best policy. That is living by a rigid, black and white rule which leaves no room to make needed adjustments when they are needed to achieve your objectives. No, I am not saying that you should say whatever you please in order to get your way.
I am saying that, as a true warrior, you have to base your actions on what is right and wrong, not on some rigid set of rules. While this may sound like the same thing at first, it isn’t. There is a big difference between basing all of your actions according to what you feel is right and wrong, and basing your decisions on some rigid set of rules that you never break, no matter what.
The true warrior or person of character does not lower his standards simply because he tells a lie. It depends on the circumstances and the intention behind that lie. In the example above, it would obviously be dishonorable for you to tell the truth and hand over the girl to those butchers. You definitely would not have lowered your standards because you were dishonest with those soldiers.
You did what the circumstances required of you to do in order to achieve your noble objective – saving this girl’s life. In this situation, lying is completely honorable, and honesty would definitely not have been the best policy. I can give you many examples that back up this truth, but you get the point.
Honor and integrity do not exist in a nice, neat box. They aren’t composed of specific rules that are carved in stone. They are much more involved and complex than that. They originate from the heart, the mind, and the intentions behind your actions.
Hard and fast rules are made for people who cannot be depended on to think for themselves and do the right thing. This is why we have laws. If everyone lived their life according to what is right, and with good intentions, there would be no need for laws, but we all know that is not the case.
The true warrior, on the other hand, should live according to what is right. He should continually search his intentions to ensure that his heart, mind, and spirit are right. Honor comes from the inside. If things are not right on the inside, they cannot be right on the outside, no matter how they may appear to those around you. Others may not be able to tell the difference, but you know whether or not you are honorable.
Honesty is only the best policy when it is the best choice to achieve your honorable objectives. The catch is, your objectives must be honorable. Dishonesty is never an acceptable option for achieving selfish, personal goals like closing a business deal or just plain trying to get your own way.
The key is basing all of your actions and your speech on what is right, not what is right for you, but what is right, as in what is just. There is a big difference between what may be best for you personally and what is just. Focus on what is right (just) in every situation, and you will not have to worry about whether or not to lie. Let righteousness be your guide.
Honesty is not always the best policy; right intention combined with right action is always the best policy.
Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you. Never excuse yourself.
Henry Ward Beecher
Modern Bushido: Living a Life of Excellence
The Secrets of Worldly Wisdom: Your Key to Success
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