Is Honesty Still the Best Policy?

George TreeOf course honesty is the best policy for all the reasons in this debate. Honesty is not always about telling the truth when asked a question. Being honest is a lot more. For instance, are you honest about the time you spend on a job? Are you honest about getting or giving the right change? This type of honesty is more or less covert. You may never be found out, and yet you never know when you’ll be asked whether or not you are honest about these types of situations.

What if you are at a job interview and an unusual question is posed by the interviewer. She asks, “Imagine you have been with the company for a full year. Do you feel entitled to take a pen home?” Yikes! Who hasn’t taken a pen home from time to time? Quick, think. How do you answer? You could deflect and say, “It’s not right to take anything home from work that’s not your own property.” Or you could tell a semi-lie and say, “Yes, I admit, I have taken a pen home from time to time, but only by accident, and brought it back to the office the next day.” Or you could spill your guts and say, “Yes, I did. And I knew it was wrong and unethical, so I apologized to the office supply cabinet.”

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Is Honesty Your Best Policy?

Part I

“Everybody lies,” says the iniquitous and irascible Dr. Gregory House, starring Hugh Laurie. Being an avid viewer of House, I have heard him say that several times over its 5 aired seasons, and not to wonder because most of the patients on the show do lie, or they just aren’t telling the truth – the whole truth or everything but the truth. Ignorance of their situation isn’t really lying, so the doctors now have to turn into detectives to uncover what’s behind their unusual symptoms. It’s a typical Hollywood drama, but many of the House cases I’ve watched seem pretty plausible to me. The human behavior elements fascinate me.

As for honesty, I believe I was brought up the right way by my parents. They always told me that lying could get me into serious trouble. Honest Abe, young George Washington and the cherry tree, were all good examples to emulate. My favorite is Shakespeare’s timeless quote which still reigns true to this day, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” That’s what I call “the domino effect lie.” This type of lying starts out with a little lie that mushrooms into several smaller lies to cover up one over the other. All too often, the truth is uncovered to the embarrassment and sometimes ruin of the liar.

Police detectives are trained to spot a liar and one of their methods is to ask the same questions again but in a different way to see if the person they are interrogating is consistent with his or her story. In the TV program, Lie to Me, starring Tim Roth who plays Dr. Cal Lightman, makes a living assisting the police when their interrogations fail. He is a behavioral scientist who has studied facial expressions, and other giveaway gestures in order to spot liars. According to Wikipedia, “The character is based on Dr. Paul Ekman, a psychologist and expert on body language and facial expressions at University of California, San Francisco.” Much to my disappointment, the show was canceled by Fox this year.

I could never lie. In fact I stink at lying. I thought I was always a good enough actress to pull off a lie, but the fact is I’m a method actress. I could never lie right off the cuff. And forget about lying to my mother. She’s a human polygraph machine.

Now, the question I have is, does it pay to lie? I don’t think so, but it sure can cost you to be honest. Oftentimes money is behind this necessary “evil.” An example of what I’m talking about happened to me a few weeks ago. As usual, I was driving to work a bit late, when suddenly all traffic slowed to a halt due to an accident involving 2 semi-trucks in the middle of an intersection on country roads. No emergency vehicles were present and I found out later that none were involved at all. Officers were directing traffic around the vehicles but where not doing so to the timing of the stop lights. Waiting patiently for several minutes, I gently beeped my horn – just a light tap. I didn’t get the officer’s attention, so I beeped again. This second beep of my horn was just a little longer. I did not lay on the horn.

A different policeman walked toward our row of traffic and asked the 2 cars in front of me whether they beeped their horns or not. Then he came to my window and sternly asked, “Did you beep your horn?” Anxiously, I scowled, “And so what if I did?” I realized it was an impudent response, but I was really upset he would ask such a question and I immediately became defensive. I felt this officer was using a bully tactic and to top it off, he appeared to be in a bad mood and I felt he was taking out his aggressions on me. He told me that it’s illegal to beep one’s horn in an emergency situation. The officer told me to pull over and he issued me a ticket for “Improper use of horn.” If I am found guilty in court, the fine is $120.00. I was absolutely dumbfounded! I am going to fight it because I cannot find this particular offense in the Illinois Vehicle code book.

Should I have just lied and said, “No, I didn’t beep my horn,” and let the officer continue up the line of cars behind me to ask that question? How would he have known it was me who beeped? No, I’m Honest Abe. I told the truth. And the truth is probably going to cost me 120 bucks.

What about people who lie to get ahead? Do you think that if you are the honest type, your nobility will pay off? One thing my father always told me is that you could never go wrong by “doing the right thing.” I have no doubt about that statement, but right now in this society, with corrupt states and laws that tend to villainize the victims and prey on the weak and honest, I’m starting to wonder. Does lying trickle into the workplace? If so, how does that affect the work environment? More investigation to come.