People from every walk of life, including a long list of politicians and other public figures, have learned to their dismay that cover-ups are usually more damaging than the original transgressions. It’s always difficult to talk your way out of something that you behaved yourself into, so don’t even try. When caught out, tell the truth: walk in, plant your feet firmly, look the other person in the eye and tell it like it is.
Truth is like surgery; it hurts at the time, but it cures in the long run. Lies sometimes seem to take care of the present; but it’s been proven time and time again that lies have no future. If you lie, the odds are overwhelming that you will be found out; and, as mentioned, people tend to react more negatively to being lied to than they would have reacted when learning of the original blunder. In addition, the stress of carrying the burden of a serious lie will negatively affect your peace of mind and might even eventually affect your physical well-being.
Truth and honesty are necessary for any society to survive. If you’re unfailingly honest, at the very least you will know that there is one less deceiver in the world. Truth is never to be feared; in the long run even an embarrassing truth is better for all concerned than a smooth lie.
Half truths can also be hazardous; there’s always the danger that you may pick the wrong half. For example, don’t fall into the trap of telling people only what they want to hear, tell them what they ought to hear; gently and diplomatically of course, but tell them. By telling them what they ought to hear, not just what will please them, you may save them from making wrong decisions or taking inappropriate actions. In the long run they will also respect you more.
While I was still in grade school I was first exposed to a very practical reason to avoid lying, a reason that so many people encounter that it has become a bit of a cliché, but it’s a reason that’s still worth a reminder here. I was in class when, for the second time that week, one of my friends gave our teacher an obviously fabricated and very convoluted excuse for not having done his homework. And worse still, his second excuse also contradicted the equally convoluted and transparent one he had given earlier in the week. I was at his house the following Saturday when our teacher arrived to talk to his parents (an event that wasn’t extraordinary in the small village where we lived). I went outside to wait, and when my friend joined me later it was obvious that he had been severely busted. But his logic was, and still is, unassailable. “You know,” he said, “if I’m going to be telling lies I’m going to have to start writing them down.” Most of us simply don’t have good enough memories to rely on lies to get us out of trouble. In the total time spent dealing with the lies my friend could easily have done his homework. He also probably discovered that truth is usually shorter than fiction.
Another lesson I learned early in my career is that it’s far better to fail with honour than to succeed by fraud. The company where I was working often had what were referred to as “competitions” for certain jobs. These competitions consisted of written tests which were part aptitude and part technical knowledge.
One night there were a number of us working late, two of whom were going to be writing the test for a particular posting in a couple of days. Someone noticed that our supervisor, who had gone home earlier, had left a copy of the test on his desk and he pointed this out to the two aspiring applicants. One of the two refused to look at it, but the other studied it carefully. Predictably, the chap who studied the test scored very well and got the job. However, he didn’t keep it very long. Not only did it quickly become obvious that he wasn’t really qualified to hold the position, but the gap between how he did on the test and how he performed on the job was so great that his unauthorized preview of the test was eventually discovered and he was fired.
There’s another important point to be made in this context. In addition to being brutally honest yourself, you should be wary of anyone who is willing to be dishonest on your behalf. I never again completely trusted the employee who pointed out that the test was on the supervisor’s desk. It’s likely that anyone who would cheat for you would cheat on you.