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To Thine Own Self Be True November 22, 2010

Posted by nrhatch in Mindfulness, People.

We are often asked for our opinion on what someone is wearing,  who they are dating,  how they should handle a situation, or even on the quality of their work product.

How often do you give a slightly dishonest answer (in order to be nice), instead of giving a truly honest answer?

C’mon . . . be honest!

Maine attorney Belle Ashton Leavitt with her l...

“A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.”

If you find yourself being “nice” by engaging in subtle deception, why are you choosing to be nice, rather than fully honest?

The answer in most cases is simple:  our Ego wants others to like us.

We choose dishonesty to protect our reputation because we want approval.   It is often easier to be nice (and say what someone wants to hear), rather than being kind (by telling them something they may need to hear).

One night, an attorney came into my office to ask my opinion about a fax he had received that had been intended for his opponent’s eyes only.  He wanted to know what he should do.

The answer seemed obvious, “Don’t read it.  Just fax it to your opponent, and shred the fax you received in error.”

He blinked and stammered, “Well, I’ve asked ten other attorneys, and they all said that I could read it.”

“Then why are you in here asking for my opinion?”

He was in my office to get permission to act unethically, “permission” that he had already received from ten other attorneys ~ not because they all would have read the fax, but because they knew that the attorney asking wanted permission to read the fax.

They told him what he wanted to hear (in order to be nice), rather than risking his anger by reminding him of the ethical obligation he had as an officer of the court.

As expected, he was annoyed that I told him what he needed to hear, instead of telling him what he wanted to hear.  As a parting shot, he announced on his way out of my office, “Well, you are in the minority.  Most of the other attorneys would have done exactly what I did ~ they would have read the fax.”

Since I am often in the minority, his parting shot glanced off its intended target.

From Ego’s perspective, there is safety in numbers.  If enough people are willing to be dishonest and unethical, then we are free to follow their lead  without risking loss of approval from our peers.  As a result, we may act in ways we know to be wrong and then attempt to justify our actions by saying, “Well, others would have done the same thing.”

When we choose to engage in subtle dishonesty when asked for our honest opinion, we know we are not alone . . . but are we in good company?

Aah . . . that’s better!

To thine own self be true.”


1. theonlycin - November 22, 2010

Well, he is a lawyer after all 😉

nrhatch - November 22, 2010

When I graduated from law school, the practice of law felt like a profession . . . by the time I left, it seemed more like a business:

* Lay witnesses lied on the stand despite the oath they had taken.

* Expert witnesses became “paid whores” . . . selling their testimony to the highest bidder.

* Jurors lied, under oath during voir dire, when answering questions designed to uncover hidden bias and prejudice.

* Judges lied to juries during cases to steer the verdict in the “right” (or “wrong”) direction.

And, while I would love to say that lawyers honored their oath as officers of the court, that would be more than subtle dishonesty on my part. 🙂

2. Shannon Sullivan - November 22, 2010

Thanks Nancy! I got the opportunity to practice just this very thing yesterday. I am usually answering with what others want to hear to be liked or stay on the “nice” side but I just couldn’t yesterday. It doesn’t mean that I couldn’t also be tactful in how I replied either. So I got to practice authentic self and sincerity at the same time and although it was challenging for me it felt better than just being “nice”.

Have a great day!

nrhatch - November 22, 2010

Good for you! I strive to be “kindly honest,” so as not to unnecessarily ruffle feathers.

It gets easier, but it’s rarely easy.

The more you look within for guidance about what to say, the more the need for approval from others fades away.

3. Barbara Gunn - November 22, 2010

There is no justification for giving someone permission to be dishonest- nice or not!

There are times when asking for another’s opinion adds insight that was not previously obvious to the person asking.

Thanks Nancy!

nrhatch - November 22, 2010

I agree.

I don’t buy the argument that “everyone else is doing it, so why can’t we?” 😉

4. Paula Tohline Calhoun - November 22, 2010

The motivation for answering “nicely” is certainly not always ego-based. Sometimes we just don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, when we sense that person is in a fragile state. However, I know that it is always preferable to speak the truth-as St. Paul so eloquently said, “Speak the truth in love.” I feel you accomplished that with the lawyer, however, I don’t think he was necessarily looking for confirmation, but perhaps for a dissenting opinion (and he knew where to find it! :-D). His parting shot sounds more like guilt than anything. He realized that having already done what he ethically should not have, he needed to know if there was someone who would have behaved differently, but also hoped he wouldn’t find such a person.

The point is, he knew what was right! What educated or reasonable person wouldn’t? As well, this particular search for truth did not really concern so much a person’s feelings, or even a true “search,” as much as his OWN ego – forget the ego of the person answering!

Good post, Nancy – once again! Thought provoking. . .BTW, I’m considering getting Pepper on camera – we shall see!

nrhatch - November 22, 2010

In the example that you gave, I still see an Ego wanting to be liked (or wanting to like itself) by not being the “bad guy.”

I also see an Ego seeking to justify its dishonesty by pointing to the perceived “fragility” of another Ego.

We are socialized to walk on eggshells around those in “fragile states” ~ maybe it would be better for them if we did not?

Speak the truth in love seems far preferable.

You may be right about the attorney, but he seemed surprised by my answer. I expect he wanted unanimous approval for his dishonesty so that he could sleep with a “clear conscience.” As if the opinions of others could ever wipe OUR slate clean.

In any event, he learned that if he asked for my opnion, he would get my honest opinion . . . not a reasonable facsimile (or fax) thereof . . . whether it’s what he “wanted” or not.

And now for something completely different . . . I’m hoping that you can capture Pepper on film, laughing YOUR laugh.

5. Greg Camp - November 22, 2010

Unfortunately, most jobs are popularity contests, as I know all too well. I’m a poor liar, so I usually have to tell the truth. Everyone would know that I was lying otherwise.

This raises the point that our world would be much better if we were to tell the truth, rather than just go along, rather than having to peel away the layers of falsehood.

nrhatch - November 22, 2010

Pretending to be someone you are not in order to get a job may help you win the “battle” while losing the “war.”

If I can’t get the job by being “myself,” the job will probably not be a good fit with my temperament ~ causing me to seek another job in the not too distant future.

I believe that being kindly honest is the best policy . . . though many of my peers have disagreed (and called me disagreeable). 😉

6. souldipper - November 22, 2010

Truth, I find, needs its stalwart companions: discernment and tact.

It was a hard nut for me to crack that it can be cruel to throw open the drapes and blind someone with the light. It may be the truth, but what happened to kindness?

nrhatch - November 22, 2010

Is it “cruel” to give an honest answer when asked to do so?

Can we not be kindly honest?

7. Chad - November 22, 2010

I’m not a “yes” man

nrhatch - November 22, 2010

Me neither. 🙂

8. Rev. Caritas - November 23, 2010

This is true, very true. Lately I have been the victim (whether one believes in “victims” or not is not the point- pain is still real and damaging) of a massive mob mentality. It is not something I can comprehend.

I’d write something more coherent if I hadn’t had the day I had today. Ugh.

nrhatch - November 23, 2010

When we “gang up” and “bully” someone we feel safety in numbers . . . but what we are doing is still morally wrong.

The same is true for these “little lies” that people say they tell “to avoid hurting other’s feelings” or to “be nice.”

They lie for “the benefit” of others. They give themselves a pat on the back for lying rather than telling the truth . . . and justify their words by saying it was the “nice” thing to do.

Being a NICE LIAR does not seem a very laudable goal, at least to me. I’d rather be kindly honest.

Sorry you had a tough day.
Breathe. Repeat.

Rev. Caritas - November 23, 2010

Breathe. Repeat. These are words of timeless wisdom!

I agree with you. I would rather meet people who are kindly honest and would rather be a person who is kindly honest.

I certainly don’t see it as “nice” to be smiled at when I already know the person doing the smiling is doing because it’s expected of them and they don’t mean it, yanno? It’s my goal to be happy and kind to people and do it from the being of my heart. 🙂

nrhatch - November 23, 2010

You’ve expressed that thought perfectly.

I want to be surrounded by people who are “real” . . . and who mean it when they smile at me.


9. Are You Doing IT Right? | Spirit Lights The Way - September 23, 2013

[…] posts:  The Sound of Silence (Kate Shrewsday) * To Thine Own Self Be True […]

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