30 Apr 2019
Everybody has to lie: Is honesty always the best policy?
Everyone thinks lying is bad – but is being honest always the right way to go?
Today (Tuesday, April 30) is World Honesty Day and in keeping with the occasion, Loughborough University’s Discourse and Rhetoric Group have written a piece that discusses what ‘being honest’ really means, and how people actually do it (or not)...
REMEMBER the last time you passed a colleague in the corridor at work, and said “hi, how’re you”? As we pass each other, we respond with “fine, how’re you?”. This isn’t the moment, as Octavius Machell puts it, “to discuss the crushing reality of existence”.
In fact, the founder of conversation analysis, Harvey Sacks, famously wrote an article entitled, “Everyone has to lie”. We might privately interpret the way “fine thanks” was said as evidence that our colleague is not fine at all but isn’t going to say more right now.
Necessary dishonesty, or necessary lies, keep the wheels of sociality turning. We make distinctions between ‘white’ lies (the obligatory, not-hurting-anyone lies) and malevolent, dangerous lies – the kinds that may be consequential in all sorts of ways.
The fact is, the study of ordinary talk reveals that the tides of honesty and lies and dishonesty ebb and flow. We accompany questions like, “does this outfit look good?” with “be brutally honest!”.
The notion of ‘brutal honesty’ tells us that there is such a thing as too much honesty – or too direct a statement – which needs mitigating to reduce the impact of our honest assessments, news deliveries, and so on.
We use linguistic tools to soften the tone of what we say (e.g., “I’m afraid”, “I’m sorry”, “to be honest”, as well as accounts (“I’m only trying to help” etc.)) which reveals that there is a norm in place, on occasions, for politeness to trump honesty.
Read the full blog here.