January 17, 2005

Honesty Overrated

At one of the many low points of the past semester, I entered a seminar. This seminar was one where openness and honesty were actively encouraged. While the course is intended to be more practical than theoretical, the conversations often returned to the ethical concerns of doing research. I liked the professor, and when he had asked how things were going in the past, he sounded like he was genuinely interested in an honest answer. So when he said "How's it going?" I responded "Not so hot."

—What's up? School troubles?

—That too. But I just learned that a friend of mine committed suicide. We weren't close or anything, but the town we lived in has so few people that are willing to do anything to serve the community.

The exchange got me thinking about the role of honesty. Is it possible to be too honest? I don't think the professor was looking to start the seminar off on a depressed note, and really, neither was I. But he asked, and I was too tired of lying, telling people that everything was OK when it felt that the world was collapsing on top of me, to tell him that everything was fine. My need to be honest at that moment was greater than my concern that the class get off to its normally innocuous start. So I told the truth, and made everyone else feel awkward.

Sometimes life places us in the uncomfortable position of trying to strike a balance between telling people things they are comfortable hearing on side and saying things that square more completely with our own sense of reality on the other. I am not sure that any "rule" can be made that will cover when, how much, or to whom honest answers can be conveyed, but at this point if you ask, expect an answer.

Posted by webs0080 at January 17, 2005 10:46 AM