People from every walk of life, especially politicians and other public figures, continue to learn the hard way that a cover-up is usually more damaging than the original transgression. It’s almost impossible to talk your way out of something you behaved yourself into, so why even try. When caught out, the best response is to quickly and emphatically tell the truth. It’s fine to offer an explanation, but deceptions should be avoided.
Truth is like surgery; it hurts at the time, but in the long run it cures. Lies may take care of the present, but they have no long-term future. The odds are overwhelming that a lie will eventually be found out, and the bigger the lie the greater are those odds. Also, the stress of carrying the burden of dishonesty can negatively affect a person’s physical and mental well-being.
If you’re unfailingly honest, at the very least you will know that there is one less deceiver in the world. Truth may be uncomfortable, but it should never be feared because, trite as it may sound, honesty really is the best policy.
Half-truths are also hazardous; there’s always the danger of picking 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; as gently and diplomatically as possible, but tell them. By telling them what they ought to hear rather than just what they want to hear, you may save them from making wrong decisions or taking inappropriate actions. And, in the long run you’re more apt to earn their respect.
Opportunities to learn valuable lessons in honesty begin very early on. I still vividly remember one from grade school, a lesson experienced by so many people that it’s become a cliché; but it’s still worth relating.
One morning, for the second time in about two weeks, a classmate had to explain why he hadn’t done his homework. There were two problems with his long, convoluted excuse. The first being that it was identical to the one he had given earlier, which was that he had to bury his beloved dog. The second problem was that the dog didn’t have the same name this time as it had on the earlier occasion. He was reprimanded in front of the class, kept in at recess, and given a note to take home to his parents (all common punishments back then). As we left school that day he turned to me and said, “You know, Wart (my childhood nickname), if I’m going to keep telling lies I’m going to have to start writing them down.” Like my classmate, most people simply don’t have good enough memories for their lies to hold up indefinitely. Truth really is shorter than fiction, and certainly easier to remember.
I learned another important lesson about honesty shortly after I began working: that it’s better to fail with honour than to succeed by cheating. I was working at the CPR and the company often had what were referred to as “competitions” for certain jobs, consisting of written tests which were part aptitude and part technical knowledge. One night a number of us were working late, two of whom were going to be writing the test for an attractive posting the following morning. A co-worker, noticing that our supervisor, who had gone home earlier, had left a copy of the test on his desk, eagerly pointed this out to both candidates. One of the two refused to look at it, but the other studied it carefully.
Predictably, the one who studied the test scored extraordinarily well and got the job. But he didn’t keep it very long. Not only did it quickly become obvious that he wasn’t qualified for the position, but the gap between his performance on the test and how he performed on the job was so wide that his unwarranted preview was uncovered and he was fired. There’s another important point here. Be particularly wary of anyone who is willing to be dishonest on your behalf. I never again completely trusted the co-worker who pointed out that the test was on the supervisor’s desk. I figured that a person who will cheat for me is equally apt to cheat on me.