Am I Honest?

Photo: Creative Commons: Hendrike 2007

Photo: Hendrike 2007

I bet most people, or at least readers of this blog, think of themselves as honest most of the time. But honesty is relative. It ranges from agreeing with everyone about everything, to not saying a word.

I Don’t Think About It

Social issues: “Fracking? I agree, we need the jobs.”

Politics: “I don’t care who the mayor of Toronto is. Re-elect Ford? Whatever!”

My Friends and I Like Trading Tall Tales

Bragging: “We upgraded to a 5-star resort this year!”

Reverse bragging: “I only paid $3 for this dress!”

I Can Live with 2 or 3 Big Lies

“I may have said I had an MBA to get my job, but I’m just as good as everyone else in the department now.”

“I won’t say I was married because it was only for 55 hours in Las Vegas.”

You Are More Important Than Me

Deference: “I’ve been waiting in line for 20 minutes, but sure, it’s OK if you go ahead of me.”

Passive-Aggressiveness: “Congrats on the new job. I’ve only applied for it 6 times.”

Only to Get Myself Out of Trouble

“No, I didn’t notice that dent in the fender – someone must have hit me in the parking lot!”

“I’m a non-smoker too” (“At least, I soon will be – I’m down to 4 a day!”)

I Need to Save Face

Says: “Oh yeah, I went through a wild phase.”

Knows: “I got drunk once in grade 9 and stayed out past 10 o’clock!”

Only to Protect Someone

To your friend’s abusive ex: “Carly and I lost touch; I don’t know what she’s up to these days.”

Little White

“You got that retro paisley shirt for only 20 bucks? What a deal – it’s fabulous on you!”

“I love your alfalfa burgers but I don’t have room for another bite!”

Only through Omission

Says to preschool director in September: “I’m sure Olivia will do great in your 4-year-olds program!”

Omits: “Despite the fact that she won’t turn 4 until March.”


“Yes, those jeans make you look fat!”

“No, I don’t want any Brussels sprouts. The last time you made me eat them, I threw up!”

As for myself?

I try not to be sickly-sweet; but I am really not a deceptive person. If I can’t say something nice, I usually opt to say something generic: “I like the colours you used!” rather than “Your painting is genius!” And I am a master of omission. Just this week I was at my Book Club, and we were discussing Americanah. The main character is a blogger. And did I tell anyone I had a blog? Nope! And in real life, I have some pretty dark secrets, but they affect other people more than me, so I feel protective and don’t share them.

I wouldn’t want to become good at lying. How would I even remember it all? I know it’s not important to be equally scrupulous in every situation, but routinely bending “truthiness”  is not for me.

Where are you on the Honesty Scale?


  1. I’m pretty honest – and if something gets to me, I’ll put it out there – like a boss who used to bump his upper legs off my desk – I flatly told him to sit down, and he asked why, and I told him it was not ok for me to see him doing that! I also tell people things, like your chatty today (but people say the same to me, so that’s how I’ve come to think it’s ok).

    I try really hard with the BF when I know it might hurt his feelings and he’s the same with me. Other times, we’re both ruthless – he said my soup looked like sludge (it was for me to eat, so I didn’t mind!). There’s one secret I have from him – re: women business, so I know he doesn’t WANT to know! Otherwise, I don’t even lie by omission with him. It’s just my nature.

    It’s certainly taken me time to learn to find the positive or neutral to describe bad things. Saying ‘he’s interesting’ is better than ‘he’s SO weird’ (right? perhaps not?). IN any case… it’s a continual learning curve.

    • I am honest by default, but also really reserved, so there are loads of situations where I say nothing. I don’t feel any need to be hurtful so if that means more things are unsaid, fine. Like you, I have learned how to speak “around” a topic if it eases a social situation. I think it’s great that you’re assertive at work!

  2. I’m pretty much an open book in spontaneous situations…so I am quite bad at the polite white lies about Paisley shirts and horrible artworks, etc. If I have a bit more time to compose myself I can lie/tell a white lie quite convincingly- but I rarely do because it’d just get messy. Who wants to have to remember a fake back story to an incident?!

  3. Gam Kau

    I just discussed a similar issue with my daughter. She is working in a professional job and has found her intake group to be particularly clique-y. The larger group excludes and gossips about two particular members; “they don’t try to fit in”, “they act weird”, “they don’t deserve the position”…
    My daughter manages to span both groups, but she feels very uncomfortable when the larger group speaks disparagingly about the two ostracized people. So she wanted to know if she should say something, what should she say, if by being silent (like not laughing at a racist joke) it is signaling disapproval, or by defending the two she will sound shrill, or is silence passive lying by participation…

    I didn’t really have any advice other than she had to do what she felt most comfortable with – and she didn’t really feel comfortable with any of it. Unfortunately, she inherited her mother’s strong disapproval of unfairness and unkindness and is thusly very sensitive to injustice.

    Okay, enough rambling. I WANT to be honest and went a week where I tried to be extra honest, or at least, dampened down my incessant urge to offer insincere comments and I managed to inadvertently damage a friendship! It was a result of not lying and not saying anything, but it was so hard to do at the moment and I subsequently went right back to my overly polite and sensitive ways! I have a strong urge to make others feel comfortable. 🙂

    • I really empathize with your daughter’s situation. Getting ahead can depend on social standing in the office, but those at the top of the heap can fall from grace at any time, and then you go down with them! What I avoid is getting too close to office complainers, even if they are nice people otherwise. They can create a toxic work environment that brings everyone down. I believe in a pretty big dose of office decorum. In your daughter’s situation, I would hope she gets well-established enough in the position that people begin to respect her opinion and she develops a reputation for fairness. If she gets to know the gossipy group well enough, she can speak up and her opinions will carry some weight. But it may be a slow and tentative process.

      I think I learned that lesson about “damaging honesty” from Harriet the Spy!

  4. I am honest by forgetfulness. I forget that there are thins I am meant NOT to tell. I mean, how am I ment to remember what I can and can’t pass on

    I am dishonest because of the love of a good story. I always say (as do many others, I know I am not original), “Don’t let the facts get I the way of a good story.”

    I am open because I love to brag and show off. I love my blog so even though it goes against my current position and profile in my current position, I have shared my blog.

    I am open because I am proud of what my mother, my sister and I have achieved. I share some pretty strange but true, pretty horrid, pretty dysfunctional stories of my past. Many shock listeners, amaze them that I am so conventional and seemingly conservative.

    I wear my heart on my sleeve. My eyes and face show what I think even if I don’t use words. I have worked hard on changing this as I moved into management positions.

    Honesty! Honestly, it’s a fraught concept.

    • More shocking than dishonesty is, to me, poor punctuation and poor grammar. OK, not really. But I just re-read my comment. And there are many typos. Sorry. It’s Friday night and I had a few drinks with a couple of friends.

    • Based on these attributes, we could hardly be more unalike, but I think we share a lot of values, too! I am like this in a one-to-one conversation when I have known and trusted someone for a while.

      Honesty and lies are really hard for young kids to figure out. It takes them a while to understand concealment and deceit in others, even if they naively practice it themselves.

  5. urbanmythcafe

    I would have to put myself on the honest end of the scale. Itegrity is one of the things that gives value to anything one does in life. Like Lucinda Sans, though, I do bend facts for a good narrative.
    My spouse is congenitally incapable of fibbing for any other reason than sparing someone’s feelings. Our accountant mutters under his breath and calls her Mother Theresa. The next time, I went alone to the accountant.

    • That’s a good example! There are so many things “everyone else does” (like under-reporting income, or speeding) that a scrupulous person really stands out.

      • urbanmythcafe

        I have learned much by living with a scrupulous person for the last 22 years.
        I read an article recently that cited studies that show women are more ethical on average than men. The article hypothesized that this ethical behavior holds women back at a certain level in the corporate world. Women are less likely to go along with plans for ethically gray activity, and are hence not promoted.

  6. I’m too honest and I never stand by and watch people being bad mouthed or bullied. Everyone thinks your fiery with no feelings as your a strong person but I’m just like everyone else……….I have feelings you know! lol.

    During my working years I used to listen to people bitch and moan and say they were going to say this and that to the powers that be and I have never once witness them actually do this and I defended far too many people who would drop you when the going was good.

    Oh you’ve started me off now lol

    • Office politics are really difficult! And they affect everyone, not just the outspoken people. It’s also hard for supervisors to control because they think, “I can’t control personal conversations” or “Everyone is doing their job so it’s not a performance issue.” But it is a morale issue!

  7. I’m honest to a level, I hate conflict and would hate to hurt anyone’s feelings.. I try to be diplomatic .
    ps/ love the paisely1

    • I actually have a vintage paisley shirt, but not that print – it’s orange! While I don’t like conflict, I try to position myself as a mediator as much as possible, and patiently work toward solutions. I don’t like hurting people’s feelings, but as a supervisor, I often have to deliver feedback or bad news (such as disciplinary action) and I try to be respectful. After that, I can’t control how people will feel, but I can show appreciation and offer support.

  8. I’m pretty bipolar. I range from being TOO HONEST with no thought about what comes out of my mouth. To holding back and not actually saying what I think. =/

  9. Ooh, I just read a great book that touches on this topic – The Composition by Antonio Skármeta. Pedro’s school forces everyone to participate in a writing competition about what their family does at night. Pedro lies and says his parents play chess every night to protect them (they actually listen to radio programs that are against the dictator). Loved it! There are definitely times when I’m not honest, but I like to think I have good intentions when I do so.

  10. This is where I am bad. Or good. Depending. If I can’t tell the truth I say nothing and my lack of response demonstrates my true feelings anyway! I have a reputation in this way,

  11. You reminded me of the story of the question asked of some young people about whether they would return someone’s wallet filled with money. Many said immediately, of course they would. Yet, that answer did not satisfy the questioner. A more thoughtful person said, I would be tempted to keep it, but would think about what the right thing to do would be and the impact on the person who lost it. After that reflection, I would return it to its owner.

    To answer your question, I do my darnedest to be honest and do the right thing. As you note, sometimes an honest answer to a question would cause problems, so it better to shift topics, provide some understanding with encouragement to do more reflection or sugar coat a response. Someone might say, I am a huge fan of this person’s political opinions, a person whose opinions you disagree with. You can respond with different levels of accuracy from “I don’t care for him at all” to “I can’t say that I find all of his opinions agreeable” to “You know some of his opinions can be too strident for me.” All three statements are true, but mask the degree so as not to offend.

    Good post. BTG

    • I like your “shades of grey” replies – sometimes I’m careful not to offend, but sometimes know I can speak my mind, depending on who I’m with. There are people who try to be consistent in all circumstances, but in my life there are people I take extra care not to offend!

      • Thanks. Politics and religion can become a wedge, so judicious statements are necessary at times. Your post attracted many good comments. Nice job.

      • Thanks; it is part of a very sporadic series: Am I Musical? Am I Athletic? etc. and was thinking more about values this time.

  12. Fiona

    I like to think I’m really honest but it’s easier with ‘things’ instead of ‘people.’ I’m honest on tax, billing errors and not taking stationery from work…all of the ‘thing’ issues. But it takes lots of skill to be honest without being rude or destructive when it comes to personal issues. Still working on that! It would be very difficult as a Manager at work. There are so many expectations of ‘transparency’ in decision-making while also needing to balance everyone’s interests and concerns!

    • Good point on the interpersonal vs “practices”! I do think that discretion and tact (and sometimes silence) are good skills to cultivate. Yeah, at work there are always legalities, and trade-offs. Definitely a matter of balancing the one and the many!

      Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your trip, when you get a chance!

  13. Really interesting topic. I’m honest to an extent but I worry about hurting people’s feelings (I often worry more about others than myself) so will sometimes ‘varnish’ the truth. More selfishly, I also worry about people taking a disliking to me so will sometimes keep my opinion to myself if I think it’s controversial or will cause a stir!

    • I’m like that too. I won’t state my opinion, or will say something really general, or change the subject. I don’t think it’s worth it to defend myself in a conflict, especially in public or social situations where niceties are expected! I wait for opportunities where it really matters to me.

  14. Pingback: Am I Optimistic? | An Exacting Life

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