The Truth and Nothing but the Truth
I get self-righteous when it comes to honesty. But do I always tell the truth? Clearly not. I fib multiple times daily. How about the new baby that looks ready for a beauty contest to the new parents but not to me. Do I disagree that this is the most beautiful child ever entering the universe?
I was prompted to think about this when I came across an old potholder. It reminded me of the hundreds I made at summer camp on a small loom using synthetic strands. My mom exclaimed how wonderful each one was. Was she lying? Fibbing? Or did her comment meet some ethical standard for behavior?
Four guidelines come to mind for truth telling or skirting.
- A fib should not harm anyone. My mom’s applause did not damage the universe. On the other hand, fudged or omitted data in a report does damage. And if a colleague asks me what they could improve, it does harm to tell them they were perfect.
- A fib should help someone. If the new mom or the potholder maker feels great about their work, that is a net gain. If no one gains anything, why do it?
- A fib should not become a habit. I need to take each case individually and assess harm or help. Using the word “amazing” in every other sentence is a bad habit.
- A fib should be the minimum needed. When press secretary C J Craig on the tv series West Wing heard drivel or untruths, she did not agree or counter them. She said: “Good to know.” And I have been known to respond to a newborn with “What a baby!
I could have seen the potholder reminder get me into many distinctions—including level of accuracy, commission vs. omission, and extent to which truthfulness is known. I found it more helpful to try to give myself some guidelines for behaving.
In the results trade we want to be intentional. This is the opposite of what former president Jimmy Carter said of some politicians in noting they were “careless with the truth.” My ideal in the ethical behavior department is Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics which first appeared in his short stories called I Robot. They have returned to visibility with the rise in AI and the difficulty separating the natural from the artificial.
Time to move from stating the guidelines to practicing them. And did I tell you that as a blog reader you are exceptionally good looking, talented, and compassionate?